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“They used to renew my detention the day before or the same day that I was supposed to get out. So every 6 months, I would face renewal again. They used to take me for investigation but nothing actually happened there – it was just to tease me. There were no charges against me in the investigation. One time I was supposed to go home but they left me in prison that day, and the next day they told me that they renewed my detention…I stayed there for two and a half years and I didn’t even make my bed because I had the hope that I’m going home the next day.” Tariq, 24, Student at Birzeit University, held under administrative detention by Israel.
As the annual ‘Palestinian Prisoners’ Day’ was commemorated last month, over 4,700 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails, 178 of them under administrative detention. In the past ten years, many thousands of Palestinians have been detained under administrative detention.
Under the Israeli administrative detention policy Palestinians are detained for indefinitely renewable periods of up to six months on the basis of ‘secret evidence’. They are not charged nor allowed to stand trial.
The legal basis for this practice comes from the British Mandate, during which time administrative detention was used by the state under emergency laws. Today, Israel utilises three separate laws to justify the ongoing practice of administrative detention: Military Order 1651 which allows the army to issue administrative detention orders against civilians in the occupied West Bank; the Unlawful Combatants Law used against Gaza residents; and the Emergency Powers Detention Law used against Israeli citizens.
The Israeli practice of administrative detention contravenes Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that nobody should be subjected to arbitrary detention, detainees must be informed of the reasons for their detention and detainees must have access to a court hearing. These are fundamental principles of human rights and criminal law. In its defence Israel invokes Article 4 of the ICCPR, which allows states to deviate from Article 9 when they face a public emergency threatening the life of the nation. Claiming that it has been under a constant state of emergency since its creation in 1948, it uses this security threat to justify its continued use of administrative detention as a preventative measure. However, the Human Rights Committee, the international body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, expressly states that “measures derogating from the provisions of the Covenant must be of an exceptional and temporary nature”. Israel’s continued use of administrative detention over many decades, therefore, remains in contravention of international law.
An Amnesty International report, which studied cases of administrative detention over a period of many years, refutes Israel’s security-based justification, arguing instead that:
“…administrative detention is used regularly by the Israeli authorities as a form of political detention, enabling the authorities to arbitrarily detain political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, and that the practice is used to punish them for their views and suspected political affiliations when they have not committed any crime.”*
As well as the illegality of this practice in and of itself, prison conditions in Israeli military jails result in gross violations of human rights and breaches of international law. Prisoners are often tortured during interrogation, suffer medical neglect and are refused visits from family. They are also refused access to education.
Since 2006, as collective punishment for the Hamas capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Palestinian prisoners have been denied basic rights to education. Only those sentenced to more than five years in prison can access education and these prisoners are restricted to studying only in Hebrew at a prohibitively expensive Israeli university. For those prisoners sentenced to less than five years in prison, including children, access to education is denied. Prisoners held under administrative detention – denied the right to a trial and therefore never sentenced – are thus also denied the right to education. In denying education to Palestinian prisoners, Israel is in violation of a number of international laws including Article 94 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that the detaining power should “take all practicable measure to ensure the exercise” of “intellectual, educational and recreational pursuits”.
For the many Palestinian students held in Israeli prisons, this violation of rights is very damaging. Students miss out on whole semesters or years of study and often must repeat courses upon release. Adjusting to academic life again can be very difficult – the psychological trauma of their experiences can leave them introverted and without hope.
Tariq, a 24 year old Psychology and Sociology student at Birzeit University, was still in high school when Israel imprisoned him for two and a half years under administrative detention:
“For two and a half years my life was like a wheel and I thought that I’m going to go home every second. There’s no psychological peace of mind. During the two and a half years I only saw my parents twice and a lot of people didn’t see their parents at all. By law if you’re under administrative detention you’re supposed to be able to see your parents twice a month, without glass between you. But in two and a half years I only saw my parents twice…[On release] it’s difficult to adjust to academic life because you don’t feel like studying – you tend to isolate yourself all the time. And you tend to only interact with people who have been through the same experience as you….Some people face trauma when they get out of prison and don’t even think about going back to finish their education. This interruption to your environment, your friends, actually affects your education because it’s really hard for you to adjust to academic life…Not only my family – all the prisoners’ families face trauma. Especially if you’re under administrative detention because your parents are always waiting for you to come home and then the detention gets renewed and your parents go through the trauma all over again. Since I got out of prison, my mom goes outside to check every time she hears a noise because she thinks they’re coming again. They are always afraid; they are always worried about their son.”
Since his initial detention, Tariq has been arrested a further three times as a university student, each instance wreaking havoc on his education. His experience isn’t uncommon. You can find it in the corridors and cafeterias of universities across the occupied Palestinian Territory.
Salam is studying Political Science at Birzeit University. He was arrested in 2008 as a university student and held under administrative detention for 14 months.
“In 2008 when they arrested me they did not investigate me at all – no one spoke to me. On the 8th day of the arrest, they took me to court. They did not charge me with anything; all they said was that there was a secret file against me so I was under administrative detention. In prison I really tried to get books and communicate with people outside, but it was very difficult because it’s forbidden to get books in prison. So I couldn’t continue my education because of the occupiers’ way of forbidding people from continuing their education inside. It affected me so much because when I went back to university I had to re-take courses. The worst part about it is that you have no idea when you’re going to go home. It’s psychologically devastating.”
Na’el Shalabi, a 25 year old Sociology student at Birzeit University has been imprisoned twice and spent a total of six years in Israeli jails:
“As Palestinians, to stop the arrests and imprisonment, we need the whole world to intervene and stand by our side to end this non-human act. The occupation must end to end this problem. I was arrested twice but I can’t guarantee that I won’t be arrested again or my brother won’t be arrested again or my friend won’t be arrested again or any Palestinian won’t be arrested again. So to end this, the occupation must end. No matter how I talk about imprisonment and how it’s devastating and how it makes me angry, words are not enough to express my feelings. We live under bad circumstances, we don’t see our families. The conditions in prison are really hard and devastating and we need worldwide intervention with our cause.”
These students and thousands like them have had to endure this illegal and barbaric violation of their rights. Please support these students and demand an end to administrative detention by joining Addameer’s ‘Stop Administrative Detention’ Campaign. You can learn more at http://www.stopadcampaign.com.
* Report by Amnesty International, 2012: ’Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial By Israel’.