JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is holding over 1,200 detainees — nearly all of them Palestinians — without charge or trial, the highest number in over three decades, an Israeli human rights group said Tuesday.
The detainees, 99% of whom are Palestinians, are held under Israel’s policy of “administrative detention,” without trial and under allegations that Israeli authorities keep secret.
The detentions can range from a few months to years — and authorities often extend them for unknown reasons, according to Jessica Montell, the executive director of Hamoked, the rights group that published the figures.
Hamoked said this makes it nearly impossible for detainees or their lawyers to mount a proper defense.
“The overall figure is outrageous,” Montell said. “This is a patently illegal practice. These people should be given a fair trial or released.”
Israeli authorities can renew administrative detentions indefinitely. While detention orders are usually set for periods of three or six months, Montell said administrative detainees in Israel spend a year in detention on average.
Israel says the controversial tactic is necessary to contain dangerous militants and avoid divulging incriminating material for security reasons. But Palestinians and rights groups say the system denies due process and is widely abused.
The number of administrative detainees has more than doubled since early last year, when Israel began staging near-nightly arrest raids into Palestinian cities and towns following a series of Palestinian attacks. A quarter of all Palestinians under Israeli custody are now administrative detainees, according to Hamoked.
Administrative detention is very rarely used against Jews or Israelis, but that figure has been rising, too — 14 Israelis were held in administrative detention as of March, Montell said. Most of them are Palestinian citizens of Israel. But several are Jews suspected of violence against Palestinians during rampages in the West Bank.
Neither Israel’s Shin Bet security service nor the army immediately commented on the latest administrative detention figures.
Israel says its activities in the occupied territories are meant to stamp out militancy and thwart future attacks. The past year and a half has seen some of the worst bloodshed in the area in nearly two decades. More than 160 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead are militants. But many were stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions or people uninvolved in violence. At least five of them were age 14 or younger.
Israel’s hard-line National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler himself, has pushed for tough measures against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
On Monday, the Palestinian Prisoners Club and other advocacy groups reported that Ben-Gvir had done away with a policy allowing the early release for Palestinian prisoners held on national security charges.
For years, all detainees sentenced to less than four years had been eligible for early release to relieve severe overcrowding in the country’s prisons. Israel’s prison service confirmed that it was abiding by Ben-Gvir’s waiver of early releases as of Tuesday.
The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.
The territory’s nearly 3 million Palestinian residents are subject to Israel’s military justice system, while the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers living alongside them have Israeli citizenship and are subject to civilian courts.
Such disparities have fueled allegations by human rights groups that Israeli policies toward the Palestinians amount to apartheid.