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Prisoners of Peace: Administrative Detention During the Oslo Process

June 1997, Summary

During the period covered by the report, an estimated 800 Palestinians were detained without charge or trial. Israel currently holds 249 Palestinians in administrative detention. While Israel released thousands of convicted Palestinian prisoners in the framework of the Oslo Accords, it continues to employ administrative detention on a large scale.

The length of detentions has increased dramatically during the Oslo Period. Military commanders are empowered to detain individuals for periods up to six months. They may extend detentions for an unlimited number of additional six month periods. At least eleven detainees will spend over three years in administrative detention by the time their current order expires. Mahmud Zeid, for example, is currently serving his eighth extension and has been in administrative detention consecutively since August 1994. Over half of the administrative detainees have had their detention order extended at least once. This widespread use of extensions is unprecedented; while Israel detained large numbers of Palestinians during the intifada, only rarely were detainees held for extended periods.

Israel makes sweeping use of its power to detain administratively, holding people for years without charge or trial. In this way, Israel makes a charade out of the entire system of procedural safeguards in both domestic and international law regarding the right to liberty and due process.

Rather than being a preventive measure, the authorities employ administrative detention as an alternative to punishment, particularly in cases where they do not have evidence or are unwilling to present evidence in criminal proceedings. This is a completely unacceptable use of administrative detention, which is not designed to provide governments with a means of evading due process of law.

Security is interpreted in an extremely broad manner such that non-violent speech and political activity are considered dangerous. In the administrative detention of Khaled Jaradat, for example, the GSS confirmed that he was not suspected of being involved in any violent activity. One of the reasons given in Jamal Ahmad's administrative detention order is that he "incites against the peace process." Such usage 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.

Detainees are provided with no information as to why they are detained, nor given the opportunity to refute the allegations. In virtually all cases, the only explanation provided to the detainee is that he is "a senior PFLP [or Hamas, etc.] activist." While a detainee can appeal the detention, because all of the information is classified, in practice he has no opportunity to defend himself. In protest of the deficiencies of the judicial review of administrative detention, all Palestinian detainees have maintained a boycott of the appeals process since August 1996, and administrative detention is now conducted with no judicial scrutiny whatsoever.

The authorities detain Palestinians for prolonged periods of time. Detainees have spent up to four years in administrative detention without knowing why or when they will be released. This uncertainty has devastating effects on the detainees and on their families.

Detainees are held inside Israel, in violation of international legal provisions prohibiting transfer of detainees outside of occupied territory. Because of the closure of the Occupied Territories, detainees' rights to family visits and access to lawyers are severely impaired.

Administrative detention is not illegal under international law, which recognizes that under certain circumstances there may be no alternative to preventive detention. However, because of the serious injury to due process rights inherent in this measure and the obvious danger of abuse, international law has placed rigid restrictions on its application. International law requires that administrative detention be used solely as a short-term, exceptional preventive measure, in response to clear dangers to security. Administrative detention in the Occupied Territories does not meet these requirements.