Since Israel began its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, more than 750,000 Palestinians have been detained, representing approximately 20 percent of the current total Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories. Throughout the decades of this persisting conflict , Israel has illegally detained Palestinian men, women and children through an extensive and systematic set of regulations that control every aspect of Palestinian life, which restrict or deny their basic human rights. Moreover, the conditions of the prisons and treatment of prisoners are horrendous, violating numerous international as well as Israeli laws. The Israeli military, which governs the Occupied Territories, constantly changes or issues new military orders, which are often unknown to local populations until implemented. Palestinian prisoners are then subject to Israeli military tribunals, which rarely follow required international standards of fair trial. Thus, Palestinians not only live under an illegal occupation, but also under an unstable and unjust system of law and order.
Why is the prisoner issue important?
The Palestinian prisoner issue has been a major point in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for decades; it is a key, yet controversial, issue in final status negotiations. Israel has illegally detained thousands of Palestinians from all walks of life, continuously denying them their inalienable and fundamental rights. Palestinians claim there will be no peace in the region until Israel addresses its numerous legal and human rights violations against Palestinian political prisoners and ultimately releases them all. Israel, on the other hand, continues to arrest innocent – mostly politically active – Palestinians. The vast majority of the detainees are political prisoners arrested for political expression or no legitimate security reason. This practice contradicts international covenants that protect freedom of speech for all people, especially political dissidents. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem commented on Israel’s questionable detention procedures in the name of ‘security’: “ Security is interpreted in an extremely broad manner such that non-violent speech and political activity are considered dangerous … [ t his] 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.”
Administrative detention is the practice of imprisonment without trial or the continuation of imprisonment after the completion of a sentence. According to Israeli law, specifically Military Order Number 1229 (1988) , administrative detention is legal in the Occupied Territories, empowering military commanders to hold an individual in custody for up to six months if there is “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” Israel routinely renews these detention orders without limitation; thus, Israel may hold Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely. Furthermore, the military judges who deal with cases involving administrative detention make their decisions based on confidential material, which is not provided to the detainee or his attorney. Hearings also take place behind closed doors.
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