The cruelty of Israel’s administrative detention of Palestinians just led to the latest death of a prisoner. He was on hunger strike for 86 days in protest of the Israeli government’s flagrant violations of human rights through its practice of imprisonment without trial. Yet it may be unlikely to see any outrage from the US government over this death in one of Israel’s prisons.
What is “administrative detention”? Israel imposes an entirely separate system of justice for Palestinians. Palestinians (even children) are universally subject to the military “justice” system. Administrative detention is a particular tactic that the Israeli military uses as part of the colonization and occupation of Palestine.
Once captured by Israeli soldiers, prisoners under administrative detention are denied access to any evidence against them (if there is any), and they can be denied access to their lawyers and their families. The Israeli military can unilaterally and indefinitely extend their detentions, without charges, and it can unilaterally impose solitary confinement for months or years at a time.
Given the denial of basic rights entailed, the United Nations has declared administrative detention’s widespread use officially illegal under international human rights law. Yet, far from turning to it “only in emergencies,” Israel has regularly used the tactic. In September 2017, 453 Palestinians languished in administrative detention. Five years later, Israel’s military prisons were holding 784 Palestinians in that condition — an increase of more than 50 percent.
As the Visualizing Palestine graphic below makes clear, this cruel policy violates many core human and legal rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, asserted, “Administrative detention is an anathema in any democratic society that follows the rule of law… It is a penal system that is ripe for abuse and maltreatment.”
While the Biden administration has condemned the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks on the Israeli court system, will the US government stand against the even greater undemocratic practices of Israel’s military prisons?
Palestinian movements, including some of our partners, are taking these and other violations to the global level — through the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice, and the growing Palestine solidarity movement. As part of the international social justice and human rights community, we have a duty to heed their call.