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Israel holds over 1,200 mostly Palestinian detainees without charge, highest in 3 decades

A report published on Wednesday by a nongovernmental group says the number of people in Israeli administrative detention is the highest in the last three decades.
Israeli policemen detain a Palestinian man at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound following clashes that erupted during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem on April 5, 2023.

The Israeli human rights group HaMoked reported on Wednesday that 1,201 people, mostly Palestinians, are detained in Israel without charges or trial dates under an Israeli legal procedure known as administrative detention. It's the highest number of people held in administrative detention in Israel in 34 years.

Hamoked Executive Director Jessica Montell tweeted on Wednesday, "The figure is outrageous. This is a patently illegal practice. These people should be given a fair trial or released."

The controversial practice takes place behind closed doors, and the press is prohibited from covering it. Family members of the detainees are also not allowed to attend the sessions. Part of Israel’s emergency protocols, the practice is intended to be used when a person presents a security danger. Lawyers for the detainees often do not get to see the evidence upon which the military judges makes their decisions. 

Administrative detention is supposed to be used for a period of six months, but can be renewed unlimited times in three- or six-month extensions, also without the detainees' lawyers reviewing the justification.

According to HaMoked, the number of administrative detainees has more than doubled since early last year, following a wave of terror attacks in the West Bank, when Israel conducted near-nightly arrests throughout Palestinian towns and villages. A quarter of all Palestinians in Israeli custody are now administrative detainees, according to HaMoked. The total also includes 12 Israeli Jews, mostly suspected of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Montell told Al-Monitor that "the current number of detainees is the highest since human rights NGOs in Israel started receiving data from the authorities." She added that "administrative detention is supposed to be an extremely unusual step, but Israel makes extensive use of it towards Palestinians. In the last year the number more than doubled." Montell noted that in March 2022, there were 470 administrative detainees. She also notes that the administrative detention policy is now used not only in the West Bank but also inside Israel. 

Indeed, a report issued by HaMoked at the end of March revealed that Israel held 1,017 people in administrative detention, including 10 minors aged 16-18. It noted that 1,002 of the detainees were Palestinians. It was the highest number of administrative detainees in Israel since April 2003, when their number was 1,140. 

One of the highest-profile cases of administrative detention has been that of Palestinian-French lawyer Salah Hamouri. He was released from administrative detention last December, after nine months in prison, following heavy pressure by French authorities. Immediately after his release, Hamouri’s Israeli residency was revoked and he was deported to France. 

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