Week 16: Administrative Detention

This Palestinian Prisoners Day, April 17, let us remember the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners. At the end of 2019, 464 of these prisoners were being held through administrative detention. Through administrative detention, Palestinian detainees can be held indefinitely, with few legal rights. Here’s what you need to know about administrative detention and what you can do so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them with a crime or allowing them to stand trial. Although administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory, which includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, Israeli citizens and foreign nationals can also be held as administrative detainees by Israel. However, only 9 Israeli settlers have ever been held in administrative detention.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, Israeli forces have arrested more than 800,000 Palestinians, almost 20% of the Palestinian population, with a majority being men. Therefore, about 40% of all male Palestinians have been arrested. The frequency of the use of administrative detention has been steadily rising since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000.

On the eve of the Second Intifada Israel held 12 Palestinians in administrative detention. Only two years later, in late-2002 to early-2003, there were over one thousand Palestinians in administrative detention. Between 2005 and 2007, the average monthly number of Palestinian administrative detainees held by Israel remained stable at approximately 765. Since then, as the situation on the ground stabilized and violence tapered off, the number of administrative detainees has generally decreased every year. As of July 2017, there were at least 449 Palestinian being held without charge or trial, nine of whom are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. However, by April 2019 the number had climbed back up to 500.

Although international human rights law permits some limited use of administrative detention in emergency situations, the authorities are required to follow basic rules for detention, including a fair hearing at which the detainee can challenge the reasons for his or her detention. Moreover, to use such detention, there must be a public emergency that threatens the well-being of the nation, and detention can only be ordered on an individual, case-by-case basis without discrimination of any kind. (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9).

Administrative detention is the most extreme measure that international humanitarian law allows an occupying power to use against residents of occupied territory. As such, states are not allowed to use it in a sweeping manner. To the contrary, administrative detention may be used against protected persons in occupied territory only for “imperative reasons of security.” However, the ways in which the administrative detention carried out by the occupation authorities differs in form and substance from those in the Geneva Convention. The conditions and procedures that the occupation authority is using in administrative detention violate International Conventions and other international standards for the right to a fair trial. 

In practice, Israel routinely uses administrative detention in violation of the strict parameters established by international law. Tellingly, Israel has claimed to be under a continuous state of emergency since 1948 in order to justify the use of administrative detention. In addition, administrative detention is frequently used—in direct contravention to international law—for collective and criminal punishment rather than for the prevention of future threat. For example, administrative detention orders are regularly issued against individuals suspected of committing an offense after an unsuccessful criminal investigation or a failure to obtain a confession in interrogation.

It is clear that the Geneva convention speaks of administrative detention only in emergency situations and as an inevitable necessity, and that imposing house arrest, if possible, should be a priority as it is less harmful to the person. However, the practice of administrative detention in the occupied territory shows that the Israeli military’s uses of administrative detention are not based only on urgent cases or circumstances. The current number of administrative detainees shows that the occupation is using this policy against many Palestinians and is using it as a form of collective punishment. 

In practice, Israel’s administrative detention regime violates numerous other international standards as well. For example, administrative detainees from the West Bank are deported from the occupied territory and interned inside Israel, in direct violation of Fourth Geneva Convention prohibitions (Articles 49 and 76). Further, administrative detainees are often denied regular family visits in accordance with international law standards, and Israel regularly fails to separate administrative detainees from the regular prison population as required by law. Moreover, in the case of child detainees, Israel regularly fails to take into account the best interests of the child as required under international law.

Throughout the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring this topic and highlighting what they are doing to address Israel’s use of administrative detention.

Adapted from Addameer’s “On Administrative Detention.” Read the full essay here.

Story: Thabet Nassar

Thabet Nassar, his wife Rana, and their children woke to the sounds of weapons and explosions and found more than 40 Israeli soldiers surrounding their home in Madama village, near Nablus. The soldiers broke through the front door and raided their home. They forced the terrified children to sit in one room and took Thabet to another filled with soldiers. The intelligence officer started interrogating Thabet while the rest of the soldiers continued to destroy the family’s belongings, including the children’s rooms and toys. 

The soldiers used knives to rip the mattresses and huge hammers to demolish parts of the walls. They destroyed the family’s memories piece by piece. The hostility did not end there; the soldiers continued to cut down all of the trees, destroying the garden. One of Thabet’s children, Yamen (8-years-old at the time), approached the intelligence officer asking to say goodbye to his father. The officer yelled at Yamen and threatened to beat him if he left the room. 

After two hours of ransacking the home, the soldiers blindfolded and shackled Thabet and took him away without informing the family of the reasons behind the arrest or the place of detention. On the third day interrogators told him that an administrative detention order had been issued. The interrogator started asking him about his political affiliation and military activities and accused him of incitement via Facebook, despite the fact that Thabet does not have a Facebook account. Thabet denied all of the accusations. 

Next, the occupation’s military commander issued a six-month administrative detention order against Nassar. Thabet was only free for six months, during which he had an interview with the occupation’s intelligence office and received many calls threatening to arrest him. He has spent a total of 12 and a half years in Israeli prisons and detention centers, most under administrative detention. 

In almost all of the hearings, the military prosecution claimed that he is involved in PFLP military activities without proving these accusations, since Thabet’s detention is based on a secret file. Thabet’s order was renewed for six additional months immediately after the original order ended.

The occupation forces resort to administrative detention when they fail to prove the accusations against a detainee. If Thabet did pose a threat to the security of the state, why isn’t he being clearly presented with charges? Thabet was denied a fair trial and does not know the reasons behind his arrest, which is a form of psychological torture violating international standards.

Thabet and Rana got married in 2007. They have four children: Yamen (9), Amal (7), Mais (3), and Ahmad, born after his father was arrested. Thabet’s parents used to visit him in prison, sometimes taking Yamen and Amal with them. However, this time he is being held in Naqab, about three hours away. Rana says: “I feel bad for Mais, for she is too young to go with her grandparents for such long distance, and she hasn’t seen her father since the day of his arrest … He spent 7 months with her and she got used to having her father around, so him disappearing suddenly without giving her a reason was very difficult for her to understand.”

A full version of Thabet’s story was originally published by Addameer.

Kumi Action

Look at the list of prisoners on the Addameer website and pick a name from the list of individuals who have been detained recently. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). Blindfold yourself for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. Do not talk, do not eat, do not drink. Think about how you can end this exercise at any time, but this prisoner held by authorities who don’t respect the rule of law does not have this luxury. How would that feel? What impact would it have on your family?

Then, write about your feelings and understanding of administrative detention and the inhumane treatment of detainees in a solidarity letter. Share your writing on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Be sure to begin your post with a clear message, noting your own privilege, such as, “I could stop this exercise at any time, but prisoners in administrative detention could not.” You could also share a photo of yourself blindfolded. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #StopAD, #KumiNow, and #Kumi16. 

This activity can be done individually or in a group, privately or in public. If done with a school or church group, consider discussing your feelings before or after you write. The goal is to help people understand that administrative detention is not just ordinary prison with a more sinister name, but an actual system of abuse and torture that has no place in any society.

Literature: “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. 

I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.

From “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson for the American civil rights movement.

Additional Resources




Additional Information

Defense For Children International – Palestine http://www.dci-palestine.org has more information on children in detention.

We have a YouTube playlist with videos about administrative detention.

Image Credits

Coming soon