Samir (not his real name) is a friendly young man from Hebron. He has traded goods since he was 17 years old. He has a dream: to leave Palestine. I ask him why so he tells me his story.
“I was sleeping when they came, they removed my blankets and put me in handcuffs. When I was dressing up a soldier hit me on my back with a rifle, then ordered me to show my ID. They blindfold me and put me in a truck,” Samir says. Samir is one of the many Palestinians to have experienced administrative detention, a procedure that allows the Israeli authorities to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, and on the basis of secret evidence which means prisoners have no way of knowing what they are re accused of. He was detained without charge in a prison in Ramallah, and released after six months with no conviction.
Samir still does not know the reason for his detention. During his time in prison he was approached by somebody he believes to be a collaborator. “He was trying to get information from me, to confuse me. Once he accused me to have killed a Jew and to be smuggling weapons. Another time he told me I was in prison because I wrote something against Israel on Facebook. But I do not know why I was there. Maybe for a post saying I have a dream: free Palestine. I do not know. The Israeli soldiers just take people from the street with no reason,” Samir explains.
As described by OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian agency, prisoners held under administrative detention are routinely denied due process rights in the Israeli military court system. They are not adequately informed of the charges against them or given access to evidence allowing them to refute these charges. The prisoners’ lawyers are similarly denied the time and resources necessary to prepare an adequate defence. Interrogations are often carried out in the absence of any legal representation and marked by abuses such as beatings or sleep deprivation, as well as threats such as having the prisoner’s family members arrested.
“In prison I did not have any rights. Outside I am a man, but inside they destroyed me. This is why I want to leave this country,” Samir says. His voices shakes and his eyes redden in this moment.
Israel argues that it uses administrative detention only as an imperative security measure to prevent a threat to society. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, however, the Israeli authorities uses administrative detention to detain Palestinians for their political opinions and nonviolent political activity. It also uses it as an alternative to criminal proceedings, most often when the authorities do not have sufficient evidence to charge an individual, or when they do not want to reveal their evidence. B’Tselem reports that as of Dec 2015, 584 Palestinians were held under administrative detention in Israeli prisons.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on Israel to end its practice of administrative detention and to release all administrative detainees or to promptly charge and prosecute them in accordance with the standards of due process set in international law, for the offenses they allegedly committed.
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Israel is a state party, establishes the right to liberty and security for all people and the prohibition of arbitrary arrest or detention. Whilst international law allows the use of administrative detention in emergency situations, states must follow specific rules in its use, for instance by ensuring a fair hearing at which the prisoner can challenge the reasons of the detention, and guaranteeing that this is ordered only on an individual, case by case basis and without discrimination of any kind. Furthermore, it must inform the individual concerned “at the time of the arrest, of the reasons for his arrest” and of any charges against him”, as established in Article 9.2 of the ICCPR. It must also grant all prisoners humane treatment and fundamental judicial guarantees, such as the right to defence as set in Article 72 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the right to appeal as established in Article 78 of the same convention. Finally, it must guarantee the application of law and standards for fair trial, as established in Articles 10-11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 14 of the ICCPR.
“Why me? I am just a normal guy”, Samir asks me before leaving. Sadly, I cannot answer that question.
Sabrina Tucci is currently in Hebron for a placement as a human rights monitor as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).