BETHLEHEM — Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons under administrative detention — Israel’s widely condemned policy of detention without charge or trial — launched an open-ended boycott of Israeli courts on Thursday.
The 450 administrative detainees released a joint statement announcing the boycott, saying “the core of resisting administrative detention policy comes from boycotting this Israeli legal system.”
“We put our faith and trust in our people, their power and institutions, and in the civil society which will not leave us alone in this fight,” the statement said, adding that “this is a national patriotic act that should not be violated by any individual or institution.”
The prisoners also called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) “to make a submission to international criminal court on the issue of administrative detention as soon as possible.”
Administrative detention allows for a detainee to be sentenced for up to six-month renewable intervals based on undisclosed evidence. The practice is used almost exclusively against Palestinians.
Israeli authorities claim the withholding of evidence during administrative detention is essential for state security concerns.
Rights groups, however, have disputed these claims, saying instead that the policy allows Israeli authorities to hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence to justify their imprisonment.
According to rights groups, the policy has been used as an attempt to disrupt Palestinian political and social processes, notably targeting Palestinian politicians, activists, and journalists.
‘Charade of Justice’
Among the 450 administrative detainees are three women, one minor, and seven politicians, with two more expected to receive administrative detention orders, according to Dawoud Yusef, advocacy coordinator for prisoners’ rights group Addameer.
Yusef told Mondoweiss that from the get go, the boycott has had the support of lawyers from organizations like Addameer, with other organizations expected to follow suit.
“Essentially, lawyers and clients will simply stop turning up to their slated hearings. If the occupations forces clients to attend by force, they will simply remain silent and not participate at all,” Yusef told Mondoweiss.
The goal of the boycott, according to Yusef, is twofold: “Firstly, the prisoners are seeking to end completely the utilisation of this policy. Not only is the Israeli practice in violation of international law, it constitutes cruel and unusual treatment.”
“Secondly, the prisoners want to make clear the arbitrary nature of this process. The whole machine will keep spinning, with or without them. This is to demonstrate how they are really just props in this charade of ‘justice’.”
Rights groups such as Addameer, Yusef noted, are expecting to see a series of punitive measure taken by Israeli authorities against the administrative detainees in punishment for their boycott.
Among the measures expected to be taken include solitary confinement, stripping of privileges like reading or writing material, and the withholding of visits.
“The Israeli military courts were set up by the Israelis as a way to provide some sort of legitimacy to the occupation,” Yusef told Mondoweiss, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, which dictates that the courts “are meant to be a crucial tool to protect the occupied populace.”
However, with a self-reported conviction rate of 99.74%, the military courts that are meant to work in tandem with local institutions, are instead used as “a tool of domination and the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the permanently occupied territory,” he said.
Yusef highlighted that Addameer is overseeing cases in which Palestinians have spent a total of 12 years in Israeli prisons, off and on, with no charge and no trial.
“They have lost huge chunks of their lives to this oppressive apparatus for no crime. The occupation is not only restricting their movement, it is stealing precious moments with family and friends.
‘Life under administrative detention is not a real life’
Addameer has claimed that administrative detention “constitutes an act of mental suffering” inflicted by Israeli authorities “as a form of punishment, intimidation, or coercion” as defined by the Convention Against Torture.
The group says the psychological, physical and mental effects of indefinite detention without trial “cause the detainee to live in limbo without knowing their fate.”
That feeling of limbo and psychological torture is one that Ramzi Quwwar, 38, a Palestinian refugee living in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, knows well.
Quwwar has spent a total of five years in Israeli prisons — one four-year stint in his 20’s, and most recently, a year in administrative detention, from which he was granted an early release in late January due to a series of health complications.
The father of three was arrested in on February 2, 2017, when his wife was one month pregnant with their third child, now four months old.
Quwwar described to Mondoweiss a feeling of hopelessness when he was sentenced to his first four months of administrative detention. “For me, it was worse than when I spent those four years in prison. Because at that time, at least I knew when I would be released.”
Like most administrative detainees, Quwwar was forced to wait until the very end of his sentence to find out if he would be released, or if his detention would be renewed. “By the last day of my detention, I still hadn’t gotten any renewal notice, so I thought maybe I would be able to go home.”
On that day, Quwwar says he showered, shaved, and got ready to go home. But just hours before his last day was up, he got an order renewing his detention for four more months.
“I was devastated,” he told Mondoweiss, describing the emotional turmoil of being unable to help his wife through her pregnancy, and eventually missing the birth of his son.
Quwwar’s detention would be renewed twice more after that, each time under the pretext that he “posed a security threat to Israel.”
“In one of my first court hearings, I told the judge if I was really a security threat, then they would sentence me on real charges,” Quwwar said.
“But when they continuously refused to provide any evidence for my detention, I decided to boycott all the court hearings, and refused to attend these fake hearings. They are not real court proceedings, they are just for show — so that they can say ‘look, we gave him a trial.’”
For Quwwar, the boycott announced on Thursday is a much needed step in the fight to end administrative detention, which he insists is should be completely outlawed internationally
“We must fight to do away with this policy,” he said, “life under administrative detention is inhumane, it is not a real life.”