Fact Sheet: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel

September 08, 2021

General Facts & Figures (as of September 8, 2021)

  • 4,650: Total number of Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel’s occupying army, according to Addameer: Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, including 200 children, 40 women, and 520 being held without charge or trial (under “administrative detention”). Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem).
  • Israel imprisons Palestinians from the occupied territories inside Israel, which is illegal under international law. According to Amnesty International: 

“Israel’s ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating.”

  • Palestinians who are charged with an offense are subjected to Israeli military courts that have been condemned by human rights organizations. According to Amnesty International: “Virtually all cases of Palestinians brought before Israeli military courts end in convictions. Most convictions are the result of plea bargains. This is because Palestinian defendants know the entire system is so unfair that if they go on trial, they will be convicted and given a longer sentence.”

Torture & Abuse

“Israeli authorities have for decades mistreated and tortured Palestinian detainees, using tactics rarely utilized against Jewish detainees. A September 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling forbidding several torture tactics led to a significant reduction in the number of people tortured, but has not stopped the practice. About 1,300 complaints of torture against Israeli authorities have been filed with Israel’s Justice Ministry between 2001 and June 2020, which have resulted in one criminal investigation and zero prosecutions. The Israeli rights group Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI) reported in June 2019 that, of the more than 100 complaints of alleged torture it filed over the last five years at the hands of Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, 31 percent involved physical violence, 40 percent painful and prolonged shackling or use of stress positions, 66 percent sleep deprivation, 61 percent threats, and 27 percent sexual harassment and humiliation. Security forces also routinely use unnecessary force against children during arrests, which often take place in the middle of the night, and physically abuse them in custody.”

  • In addition to physical violence, prolonged shackling, stress positions, and sleep deprivation, other abusive practices employed by Israel against Palestinian prisoners include the use of isolation (solitary confinement), restrictions on and denial of family visits, and deliberate medical neglect of prisoners with serious health problems, including illnesses such as cancer, causing much suffering and leading to many unnecessary /premature deaths.
  • The harsh conditions endured by Palestinians in Israeli prisons has prompted numerous hunger strikes, individual and mass, over the years.


Child Prisoners

  • There are currently 200 Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel. According to Defence for Children International Palestine, “Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.” Since 2000, Israel’s occupying army has detained an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children in its military detention system. 
  • Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries and imprisons children using military courts. It only does so with Palestinian children. The children of Israeli settlers living illegally in the same territory are subject to Israeli civilian law. 
  • Palestinian children are frequently arrested in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers, taken away without their parents and harshly interrogated without a guardian or lawyer present.
  • As with Palestinian adults, children imprisoned by Israel are subject to physical violence and other forms of abuse. According to Defence for Children International Palestine:

“Children typically arrive to interrogation bound, blindfolded, frightened, and sleep deprived. Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture. Israeli military law provides no right to legal counsel during interrogation, and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture.”

Administrative Detention

  • Israel uses a procedure known as “administrative detention” to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial for months or even years. Administrative detention orders are normally issued for one to six-month periods and can be extended indefinitely.
  • There are currently (September 2021) 520 Palestinians being held in administrative detention. Although there are none currently being held in administrative detention, Israeli authorities have in the past used the procedure against Palestinian children as well as adults.
  • Israel uses administrative detention almost exclusively against Palestinians and very rarely against Jewish Israelis. According to Human Rights Watch, “over nearly 54 years of occupation, [Israel has] held not more than a handful of Jewish Israelis in total in administrative detention.” In contrast, since 1967, approximately 100,000 administrative detention orders have been issued against Palestinians.
  • Israel’s use of administrative detention has been condemned by the United Nations and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israeli rights groups like B’Tselem. According to a 2012 report issued by Amnesty International entitled Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial by Israel:

“Amnesty International has collected evidence over many years indicating that administrative detention is used regularly by the Israeli authorities as a form of political detention, enabling the authorities to arbitrarily detain political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, and that the practice is used to punish them for their views and suspected political affiliations when they have not committed any crime.”

  • In May 2012, amid a wave of hunger strikes protesting the use of administrative detention, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch implicitly admitted that Israel uses it for reasons other than stated urgent "security" concerns, urging authorities to "use it only if there's a need.”