Administrative Detention for Palestinian Prisoners in Israel

Professor John Macdonald

(Note from the author, John Macdonald: I find it difficult to write these short pieces on prisoners in Palestine; it is a very painful subject. I feel, because I have “been” for a short time almost every year since 1994 in Palestine and Gaza that I, though not an expert, am at least a witness, initially to the steady growth of illegal Israeli settlements, also to the ritual humiliation of the Palestinians, the structural injustice of the occupation, and to the trauma for individuals and their loved ones, of incarceration. I was involved in a small way in the setting up of courses in the Institute of Community and Public Health of Birzeit University in Palestine and have regularly taught into these courses. I have been blessed by the inspiring friendship of the clever person behind this work, Professor Rita Giacaman.)

Administrative detention is a form of detention commonly used in Israel for Palestinian prisoners.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation:

“In administrative detention, a person is held without trial without having committed an offence, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future. As this measure is supposed to be preventive, it has no time limit. The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them. This leaves the detainees helpless – facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released, and without being charged, tried or convicted… In practice, this allows Israel to incarcerate Palestinians who have not been convicted of anything for years on end”.

What is worth noting is that people are being detained on the suspicion that they WILL, in the future, commit a crime.

Addameer (Prisoner support and Human Rights Association), a Palestinian organisation, wrote in 2017:

“Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial….. administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT)”.

Amnesty International wrote on November 8, 2023:

“Israeli authorities have dramatically increased their use of administrative detention, a form of arbitrary detention, of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank; extended emergency measures that facilitate inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners; and failed to investigate incidents of torture and death in custody over the past four weeks.

Since 7 October, Israeli forces have detained more than 2,200 Palestinian men and women, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club. According to Israeli human rights organisation, HaMoked, 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 number of Palestinian prisoners has increased rapidly in the last months, some tried in military courts, many imprisoned through administrative detention. Many are young men, even children, arrested for throwing stones. Throwing stones, for example, at invading tanks, clearly ineffective in deterring the invasion, has nevertheless been seen as a positive for the mental health of young people experiencing the trauma of occupation (Punamäki, R.-L.,1988. Political Violence and Mental Health. International Journal of Mental Health, 17(4), 3–15)

Dani Shenhar, legal director at HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organisation, said about the incarceration of Palestinians: “Mass incarceration
of Palestinians is a means to control the population, to stifle political activity, to keep a lid on turmoil and activism”. HaMoked is equally scathing of interrogation techniques, which, with B’Tselem, say that they are aimed at weakening both mind and body.


    No prison is “easy” but the Israeli prisons holding Palestinians are worse than terrible. It is therefore almost hard to believe that even with those prisons, where conditions have become worse since October 7th , 2023, there is one worse than the others. It goes by the name of Sde Teiman, located in the south of Israel in the Negev Desert. CNN has documented the revelations of a whistle-blower, a former employee of the prison who was so disgusted and ashamed by what is happening to the prisoners that he felt obliged to tell the world.

    Read more about it here.


    The death in “custody” of some Palestinian prisoners highlights the atrocities being perpetrated by Israel in the name of “justice”. The ‘Deaths in Custody’ Report conducted by the Royal Commission in Australia (many recommendations of which have not been implemented) has
    recorded for history dreadful deaths of Indigenous Australians in prison. One hopes that the equally dreadful deaths in custody of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will not go unnoticed, not just by Palestinians, but by the whole world, concerned by issues of injustice.

    One recent example is the death after torture of Dr Adnan al Bursch. He was a skilled Palestinian orthopaedic surgeon working across several hospitals in Gaza, refusing to leave his patients. All these hospitals are now destroyed by Israel in the “war” on Gaza. The cruelty of this revenge
    killing has been extended to the targeted elimination of all health workers. Dr al Bursch was not only killed by the occupying forces but tortured to death. How could any supporter of Zionism possibly justify these inhumane and degrading actions?