Administrative arrests: Months or years without due process

At any given moment, hundreds of Palestinians are held by Israel without charges or trial. Of the Palestinians currently under administrative arrest, 88 have been held for more than a year. One has been held for more than five years.

Some advocacy groups and Israeli officials have recently claimed that Khader Adnan, the 33-year-old Palestinian on a hunger strike for more than two months now, “is no saint,” and that real security concerns led to his arrest. But we can never know for sure, since Adnan is held under administrative arrest, a measure that contradicts the logic at the heart of the rule of law: it aims to put people in prisons not for what they did or conspired to do, but for what they might do. In other words, he is guilty until proven innocent. And there is no way to try and prove he is innocent, since Adnan won’t face trial.

This is the heart of the matter: at any given moment, hundreds of Palestinians are held by Israel without trial, with no charges filed against them, and without the ability to defend themselves against non-existent charges. In short, they are simply thrown into prison for a period of up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely. Each of Khader Adnan’s many previous arrests lasted months – a fact that goes a long way to explain why he is willing to take such an extreme measure as a life-threatening hunger strike. What other hope does he have?

Israel claims that Adnan is a member of Islamic Jihad? It should take him to court and charge him with membership in a terrorist organization, with planning or taking part in illegal activities, or another item on the very long list that is often used against Palestinians. But why bother, when you can simply pick him up at his home, place him in prison and forget about the whole thing? If it wasn’t for his hunger strike, would any news organization bother to deal with those “arrests”?

The important point is that Adnan’s case is not unique. There are 309 Palestinians held under administrative arress right now, the highest number since October 2009. You can see the full statistics for the last decade here. These numbers were obtained by B’Tselem, in accordance with the new Freedom of Information Law. Without it,and without B’Tselem, there was no way to know even how many Palestinians are held by Israel without trial. (It’s therefore easy to understand why so many Israelis wish B’Tselem didn’t exist – sometimes it’s nicer not to know.)

Administrative detention exist in other countries, but is considered a unique and exceptional measure, and its implementation usually leads to a vigorous public debate. In the West Bank, it’s routine. Over the years, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for periods ranging from a few months to several years. Eighty of the Palestinians held under administrative arrest – some 26 percent of the detainees – have been held for six months to one year; another 88 people (about 28.5 percent) from one to two years. Sixteen Palestinians have been in administrative detention continuously for two to four and a half years, and one man has been held for over five years. It should be noted that a few settlers have also been held in the past under administrative arrest, an act which was reported and rightly criticized in the Israeli media.

Check out +972’s full coverage of Khader Adnan’s hunger strike here