Palestinian Political Prisoners 

Palestinian Political Prisoners 

July 2003

“It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”

– Avigdor Lieberman , Israeli Transport Minister [1]

Frequently Asked Questions:

1.   How many Palestinian prisoners are there?

As of July 8, 2003, there are 5,892 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons or detention camps.[2]   Of these prisoners, 351 are children under the age of 18, [3] 75 are women and 42 are over the age of 50.  Of the total number of prisoners, 433 Palestinians, who were imprisoned prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords, remain in prison despite the Accords’ call for their release. [4]  Of these 5,892 prisoners, only 1,461 have actually been put on trial.  The prisoners include members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council as well as individuals who helped reach the recent agreement with Palestinian factions to halt all violence against all Israelis.

Israel currently has 786 Palestinians detained in prison camps who have not been charged with any crime under what is called “administrative detention.” Administrative detention is illegal under international law.[5] Administrative detention orders may last for up to six months, with Palestinians held without charge or trial during this period. [6]   Israel routinely renews the detention orders and may renew the orders without limitation, thereby holding Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely. [7]  During this period, detainees may be denied legal counsel.  While detainees may appeal against the detention, neither they nor their attorneys are allowed access to the State’s evidence, or know the purpose of the detention – thereby rendering the appeals procedure useless.

2.  Don’t most Palestinian prisoners have “blood on their hands”?

No.  The vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners who have been arbitrarily imprisoned or detained for no legitimate security reason, but for political expression or simply because they are Palestinian.  According to B’Tselem:

“Security is interpreted in an extremely broad manner such that non-violent speech and political activity are considered dangerous…. [This] is a blatant contradiction of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion guaranteed under international law. If these same standards were applied inside Israel, half of the Likud party would be in administrative detention.” [8]

Furthermore, of those Palestinians currently being held, the overwhelming majority have been put on trial. 

Many Palestinians are arrested arbitrarily.  For example, from February to March 2002, approximately 8,500 Palestinians were arrested arbitrarily.  In many cities, all Palestinian males from the ages of 15 to 45 were rounded up and detained or imprisoned.  Palestinians were blindfolded, handcuffed tightly with plastic handcuffs and forced to squat, sit or kneel for prolonged periods of time.  This type of mass arrest and detention has been condemned by Amnesty International as a breach of human rights.

The issue of child detainees and prisoners is the most stark example of Israel’s policy of blanket imprisonment:  approximately 2,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and detained from September 2000 to the end of June 2003.[9]   Children as young as 13 are held in Israeli prisons with children aged 13 and 14 constituting approximately ten percent of all child detainees. [10]   Almost all child detainees have reported some form of torture or mistreatment, whether physical (beatings or placed in painful positions) or psychological (abuse, threats or intimidation). [11]   Children are routinely held in detention centers under appalling conditions:  in some centers up to eleven children have been packed into cells as small as five square meters. [12]

3.  But didn’tIsrael make “concessions” by releasing long-time Palestinian prisoners when the Road Map was announced and by announcing the release of additional prisoners?

Releasing political prisoners who never should have been arrested is not a “concession” – it is a legal obligation.  Respect for human rights should never be considered a “concession” and should never be used as a tool to extract political gains. 

Nevertheless, of the approximately 121 prisoners released by Israel on 3 June 2003, 100 of them were administrative detainees, most of whom had detention orders that expired that same day or had less than 19 days remaining on their detention orders.  Twenty of the released Palestinians were held in custody with no detention orders or charges against them.  Israel only released one political prisoner who had been tried. 

Israel ’s announcement that it will release 350 Palestinian political prisoners (approximately six percent of all Palestinian prisoners) also rings hollow:  215 of the prisoners are administrative detainees illegally held without charge or trial.[13]  Israel has not indicated that it is willing to release the remaining political prisoners and continues to arbitrarily arrest Palestinians.

4.  Why is the release of Palestinian prisoners so important?

No issue highlights Israel’s 36-year denial of freedom to the Palestinians better than that of political prisoners.  The Palestinians have been subjected to the highest rate of incarceration in the world – approximately 20 percent of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has, at one point, been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned by Israel. [14] 

Israel ’s imprisonment and detention of Palestinians is a manifestation of its failure to abide by international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention:  administrative detentions and imprisonment inside Israel are both illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.[15]   Furthermore Palestinian prisoners are routinely tortured by Israel [16] and held in detention centers and prisons that do not meet the minimum international standards[17] and are routinely denied visitation rights. [18]   The vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are held without trial and, according to Amnesty International, trials often fall short of international fair trial standards.[19]  Israel’s failure to release Palestinian political prisoners and its continued arbitrary arrest of Palestinian civilians only serves to highlight that Israel continues to view itself above the law and the Palestinians beneath it. 

[1] Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s Transport Minister offered to bus Palestinian political prisoners to the Dead Sea to be drowned.  Israel Radio, July 7, 2003.

[2]Source:   PA Ministry of Prisoner Affairs, 8 June 2003. 

[3] The most famous of these child prisoners is Suad Ghazal , who at the age of 15 was sentenced to 6½ years’ imprisonment.  When she was first arrested, she spent 17 days in solitary confinement and has been tortured in prison.  She is now 18 years old. 

In 1999, Israel re-instated Israeli Military Order No. 132 which allows for the arrest of Palestinian children aged 12 to 14.  The Palestinian Prisoner’s Club has noted that 50% of those arrested and detained by Israel since September 2000 are children under the age of 18.  See:  Defence for Children International/Palestine Section

[4] Under the Oslo Accords, Israel was obligated to release the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners arrested prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords.  (Interim Agreement, Annex VII).  Israel failed to do so.  The Sharm el-Shaeikh Agreement of September 1999 provided for the establishment a joint committee charged with recommending the release of certain prisoners.  Despite the fact that the committee recommended the release of these 433 prisoners, Israel failed to do so.

[5] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a signatory, provides that:

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of the person.  No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.  No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”  (Article 9(1)).

“Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.”  (Article 9(2)).

[6] Administrative detentions are currently carried out on the basis of Military Order No. 1229, of 1988. This Order empowers military commanders in the West Bank to detain an individual for up to six months if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” Commanders can extend detentions for additional periods of up to six months. The Order does not define a maximum cumulative period of administrative detention, and consequently, the detention can be extended indefinitely. The terms “security of the area” and “public security” are also not defined.  As a result, their interpretation is left to the military commanders.  Given that these are military orders and not judicial orders, they are executed without obtaining the approval of a judge.

[7] Khalid Jaradat was held in administrative detention for a period of 12 years, with only a one week release between administrative detention orders.  Israeli security services confirmed that his detention was for nonviolent political expression.  See:


[9] Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, Press Release, Palestinian Child Arrest Figures Top 2,000 in 2nd Intifada – Torture Experienced by Most , 26 June 2003.

[10] Defence for Children International/Palestine Section: Palestinian Children in the Judicial System,



[12] Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, Press Release, Israeli Government Fails to Release Child Detainees – 330 Still in Custody, 7 June 2003.

[13] Agence France Presse, Israel to Release 350 Palestinian Prisoners , 7 July 2003. 

[14] Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, A Generation Denied 163 (2001).

[15] The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that:

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.  (Article 49(1)).

[16] According to Amnesty International:

“Among the thousands of Palestinians arrested after 27 February 2002, some hundreds were transferred to full-scale interrogation by the GSS [Israel Security Agency], in centres….Amnesty International has received reports that some of the detainees interrogated by the GSS were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, shabeh (prolonged standing or sitting in a painful position), beings and being violently shaken.” 

Amnesty International, Israel and the Occupied Territories:  Mass detention in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions, at 14 (May 2002).

On 9 September 1999, the Israeli High Court ruled that the Israel Security Agency (formerly known as GSS) could no longer use four methods of torture (violent shaking, tying prisoners in contorted positions to a small child’s chair, covering the prisoner’s head with a sack and sleep deprivation).  This ruling was widely reported as an end to Israel’s practice of torture.  In reality, the ambit of the ruling was very narrow:  it only applies to the Israel Security Agency.  The vast majority of torture is carried out by Israeli soldiers, police and military police in detention centers (not prisons) where the practices to continue to be carried out.  Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, A Generation Denied 28 (2001).

Furthermore, according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and B’Tselem, the practice of torture has not ceased.  Approximately 85 percent of all administrative detainees are still subjected to torture.  Methods of torture include:  sleep prevention, tying to a chair in painful positions, beating, slapping, kicking, threats, verbal abuse and humiliation, bending the body in extremely painful positions, intentional tightening of the handcuffs, stepping on manacles, application of pressure to different parts of the body, forcing the detainee to squat in a painful position (“ Kambaz ”), choking and other forms of violence and humiliation (pulling out hair, spitting etc.), ill treatment in solitary confinement include sleep prevention, exposure to extreme heat and cold, continuous exposure to artificial light, confinement in inhuman conditions.

See:   and

[17] Amnesty International, id at 19:

“According to consistent reports received by Amnesty International, detainees’ conditions in Ofer and Ansar III/Ketziot are poor and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment….In both camps, detainees sleep in tents; in Ansar III/Ketziot nights are particularly cold.  Conditions in Ofer are said to be overcrowded, with detainees sleeping 25 to 30 to a tent.  In both camps detainees initially slept on pieces of rough wood….Detainees were said to be given frozen chicken schnitzels which they had to defrost in the sun; a tub of yoghurt, one or two cucumbers and two pieces of fruit between 10 prisoners.” 

[18] Defence for Children International/Palestine Section, Annual Report 21 (2001).

[19] Amnesty International, Israel and the Occupied Territories (January to December 2002).  See: .

K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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