Amnesty International calls for a commission of inquiry into mass arbitrary detention of Palestinians

‘We were all handcuffed and we sat on a pebbly ground. We weren’t given any food, and when we asked for water they poured it over us. The handcuffs were tight and when the blindfolds were taken off on our arrival I saw some people with hands black and swollen.’ Testimony of Majdi Shehadeh arrested on 8 March 2002.

“More than 8,500 Palestinians have been arrested between 27 February and 20 May, many of them arbitrarily detained. These arrests and detentions were accompanied by a consistent pattern of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and sometimes torture,” Amnesty International said in a report released today.

The report “Mass detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions” documents how detainees were humiliated and detained for days without charge, access to a court, their lawyer or families.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to set up a commission of inquiry and to bring those responsible for ill-treatment of detainees to justice.”

Most of the 2500 detainees arrested during February and March were released within a week, whereas many of the more than 6000 detainees arrested during Operation Defensive Shield after 29 March were held in prolonged incommunicado detention. A new military order issued on 5 April 2002 (Military Order 1500) allows an initial period of 18 days of detention without access to a lawyer, a judge or relatives. After the initial period of incommunicado detention the prohibition of access to the outside world can be extended further by a military judge for up to 90 days.

“This Military Order violates international standards and must be immediately repealed,” the organization added.

Loudspeakers summoned males between 15 and 45 to report to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). On arrest most detainees were blindfolded and handcuffed with tight plastic handcuffs, often held squatting, sitting or kneeling, not allowed to go to the toilet, and deprived of food or blankets during at least the first 24 hours.

“The indiscriminate and arbitrary arrests caused anguish to families who remained under curfew after their relatives were led off and had no means of knowing whether they were alive or dead,” Amnesty International emphasized.

Majdi Shehadeh was one of more than 600 Palestinians arrested in Tulkarem refugee camp by the IDF in early March 2002. He was arrested on 8 March, told to take off his clothes from the waist up, left for an hour and then transferred to Israel, before being released the following day without charge. Amnesty International interviewed him on 20 March. The account he gave of his ill-treatment was similar to many others heard by the organization.
Jamal Issa, who was arrested on 8 March and released six days later without charge or even interrogation, described the first 24 hours of his detention: “We stayed the night at the District Coordination Office, about 60 of us, handcuffed and blindfolded, treated as terrorists and humiliated. We asked to go to the toilet and they refused it.”

During “Operation Defensive Shield” in 29 March 2002 more than 6000 Palestinians were arrested. Scores of detainees were reportedly stripped to their underclothes on arrest and forced to remain in their underclothes for hours or even days. Released detainees from Jenin interviewed by Amnesty International delegates in Rumaneh village gave a consistent account of their treatment at the hands of IDF soldiers. They reported having been ordered to strip to their underwear, their hands were clasped behind their backs with plastic handcuffs, and they were blindfolded. They were kept like this for up to ten hours.

The use of administrative detention has also greatly increased: In May 2002 the IDF and the State Attorney gave figures ranging from 450 to 990 people in administrative detention compared with the November 2001 figure of 32. Most of those detained since the beginning of April have received administrative detention orders of up to six months. Administrative detention is a procedure under which detainees can be held without charge or trial. The order of detention can be renewed indefinitely.

‘Abd al-Salam ‘Adwan, 39, a nurse and father of five children was arrested on 7 March 2002 at his workplace in Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem and eventually transferred to Shikma Prison in Ashkelon. His lawyer was promised access to ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Adwan for the first time on 24 March. But when he reached the prison he was denied access to his client. On 26 March the lawyer was told that there was an order prohibiting ‘Abd al-Salam ‘Adwan from seeing his lawyer for ten days. After the order expired another order was imposed prohibiting access to a lawyer for a further five days. Only after intervention by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations was he allowed to see his lawyer for the first time after 34 days of incommunicado detention. On 13 May he was served with a six months administrative detention order.

Amnesty International calls on the Israeli Government to set up an independent commission of inquiry under the Law on Commissions of Inquiry of 1968. The commission should investigate the arbitrary arrests and the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment immediately after detention of Palestinians arrested after 27 February 2002. Such a Commission of Inquiry should adhere to international standards for thorough, effective and independent investigations.

Read the report:
Mass detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions