What is Israel's administrative detention system used against Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi?

What is Israel's administrative detention system used against Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi?
Approximately 150 Palestinians have been released by Israel who were detained under the notorious administrative detention system, without charge or trial.
3 min read
28 November, 2023
Israeli forces have detained thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank since 7 October [Getty]

Around 98 of 150 Palestinian detainees released since a Hamas-Israel hostage swap deal began on Friday were subject to the notorious administrative detention system which allows prisoners to be held indefinitely, without charge.

Administrative detention has been increasingly utilised by Israel, reaching levels not seen in decades, with hundreds more detained in the occupied West Bank since 7 October.

Of those released as part of the truce deal, 119 were children and 31 women.

Amnesty International has highlighted a significant increase in these detentions, saying they were "already at a 20-year high before the latest escalation in hostilities on 7 October" and denouncing them as a part of Israel's apartheid practices against Palestinians. 

"Administrative detention is one of the key tools through which Israel has enforced its system of apartheid against Palestinians.

"Testimonies and video evidence also point to numerous incidents of torture and other ill-treatment by Israeli forces including severe beatings and deliberate humiliation of Palestinians who are detained in dire conditions," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  

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How does the administrative detention system work?

The administrative detention system allows Israel to detain individuals without formal charge or trial, based on the premise that they might pose a future threat. 

The detentions are authorised by military commanders and are based on classified evidence that isn't disclosed to the detainees. They are often renewed indefinitely, leaving prisoners in a state of uncertainty, without knowing the charges against them or when they might be released.

This lack of transparency and indefinite nature of the detentions has been condemned by human rights organisations as a violation of international law and an element of Israel's broader measures to control and persecute Palestinians.

How many Palestinians are affected by this system?

As of June 2023, 1,083 out of 5,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons were kept under the administrative detention system. These included three women and 19 children, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club.

Data gathered by human rights organisations shows a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians detained under this system since 7 October. 

Between 7 October and 25 November, over 3,160 Palestinians were detained in total by Israel. 

The total number of Palestinians held in administrative detention also increased sharply around this time. Between 1 October and 1 November, the total number of Palestinians held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, rose from 1,319 to 2,070, the Israeli human rights organization HaMoked said. 

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These recent detainees have been part of ongoing negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Palestinian human rights activist Ahed Tamimi, one of those detained by Israel since 7 October, is reportedly among the most notable figures linked to these exchanges.

Since 1967, Israel has implemented over 1,000 military orders that have criminalised various aspects of Palestinian identity and expression, including political speech and symbolic acts like waving the Palestinian flag, often leading to arrests under charges of 'incitement'. 

The Israeli NGO B'tselem says that, since March 2002, "not a single month has gone by without Israel holding at least 100 Palestinians in administrative detention".