Israel has arrested so many Palestinians in the two weeks since the start of its bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip that it has doubled the number of Palestinians in its custody.
There were about 5,200 Palestinians in Israeli prisons prior to October 7 when the Palestinian armed resistance group Hamas launched an attack on Israel, which responded almost immediately with a relentless bombing campaign.
‘Dangerous’ prison conditions
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon in Ramallah, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Commission for Detainees’ Affairs Qadura Fares, said recent developments regarding prisoners are “unprecedented” and “dangerous”.
“We hesitated a lot about holding this press conference addressing yet another chapter of Israeli crimes, on what our male and female prisoners are being exposed to in the occupation’s prisons, for fear of creating tension and anxiety among the families of prisoners, and our Palestinian people in general,” said Fares.
“Prisoners are subjected to starvation and thirst; they are prevented from accessing their medicine, specifically for those suffering from chronic illnesses that require regular medication,” he said, adding that matters became worse “when the prison administration cut off water and electricity”.
Addameer also reported the prevention of access to medical care. “They also shut down the prison clinics, and also prevented prisoners from going to hospitals and external clinics, despite the presence of some cancer patients among the prisoners who require continuous treatment,” said the rights group.
“The most dangerous thing” over the past few days, continued Fares, was “physical attacks” and degrading treatment. “Everyone who is arrested is assaulted.
“Many of the prisoners have had their limbs, hands and legs broken … degrading and insulting expressions, insults, cursing, tying them with handcuffs to the back and tightening them at the end to the point of causing severe pain … naked, humiliating and group search of the prisoners,” he said.
Israel is using different legal pretexts to withhold the detainees from different areas, according to human rights groups.
Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were arrested inside Israel are being held under the “Unlawful Combatants Law” which allows authorities to detain Palestinians indefinitely without effective judicial review.
The law defines an “unlawful combatant” as a “person who has participated either directly or indirectly in hostile acts against the State of Israel, or is a member of a force perpetrating hostile acts against the State of Israel.”
On October 13, Israel amended the law to make it easier to arrest Palestinians on mere suspicion. Some of the provisions include “expanding the scope of those entitled to issue arrest warrants to include generals and those of lower rank”.
The Unlawful Combatants Law is the equivalent of administrative detention in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which allows Israel to hold Palestinians from those areas indefinitely under “secret evidence”.
Most of the 1,070 people arrested in those areas since October 7 are being transferred to administrative detention, Francis said.
“They are signing off on dozens of administrative detention orders every day,” Francis said.
Israel’s latest assault on Gaza began on October 7 after Hamas launched a surprise attack just outside the besieged enclave on Israeli territory. So far, at least 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, according to Israeli officials.
Since then, Israel’s retaliatory bombardment has killed at least 4,137 Palestinians in Gaza, including 1,524 children, while 81 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank.