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The Plight of Palestinian Political Prisoners

Updated: May 18

By Sanad Hamdouna

Cover Artist & Co-E.i.C.

Illustrated by Sanad Hamdouna

Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned almost a million Palestinians, largely on political grounds. These Palestinians are often imprisoned inside Israel’s 1967 borders — a violation of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. 

According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, by the end of September 2023, Israel had around 5696 Palestinians imprisoned, including 1310 without charge or trial. A UN report supplements these figures, detailing that — as of July 2023 — at least 160 out of 5000 prisoners were children. These figures shot up dramatically after October 7th. By April 2024, the number of Palestinian prisoners had surpassed  9500, according to Addameer, a Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. This figure includes 200 children and 3660 prisoners being held under Administrative Detention. 

Administrative Detention consists of arresting and imprisoning someone who has not committed any crime under the pretence that they may commit one in the future. In other words: “just in case.” Palestinians imprisoned in this way can be held indefinitely and are not informed of the reason for their arrest, which Israel claims to be “secret evidence” that is never presented in court as these detainees are denied any form of trial. Considering the infinitely renewable nature of their imprisonment, these prisoners, including children, can be detained for periods ranging from days to several years without ever being charged with any crime. 

Palestinian prisoners who are afforded the dignity of a trial are tried under military law, unlike Israelis, who are tried under civilian law. Palestinian children are no exception to this, making Israel the only country in the world to systematically prosecute children in military courts. Yet these military court trials hardly present hope for a fair trial as they have a conviction rate of 99.74% according to Haaretz. B’Tselem — amongst other human rights organisations — attributes part of this high conviction rate to the large number of plea deals taken by Palestinian detainees. These plea deals are often seen as the better alternative to Israel’s policy of remand proceedings, which consists of imprisoning the accused persons for the entirety of their lengthy trial, even if they have not been found guilty. In other words: Palestinians are always presumed guilty when they should be presumed innocent. Palestinians may also opt to accept a plea deal even when they are innocent, as the time spent behind bars awaiting their trial will be longer than the prison sentence they would receive from a plea bargain.

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, another factor contributing to this high conviction rate is Israel’s criminalization of various peaceful activities such as participating in outdoor gatherings of over 10 people, waving a Palestinian flag, or being part of organisations criminalised under Israeli law. These organisations include Palestinian political parties; NGOs; and human rights groups such as Defence for Children International; an internationally recognized human rights organisation protecting children’s rights; Al Haq, a human rights and international law organisation that is active and recognized at the UN; and The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, which provides programs to empower women and promote gender equality. 

Regardless of their crime — or lack thereof — Palestinian prisoners are kept in squalid conditions and subjected to endless abuse, amounting to torture. Endless reports and condemnations of Israel’s torture of Palestinian prisoners have been published by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN, and B’Tselem.

Additionally, numerous instances of sickening photos and videos depicting Israeli soldiers abusing and torturing Palestinians have been circulated online in the last few months. Many were posted by the soldiers themselves, signalling a culture of complete impunity within Israel and on the international stage. One of these videos, reported on by The Times of Israel, depicts IDF soldiers filming themselves abusing 7 Palestinian detainees screaming in pain, whom they had stripped, blindfolded, and handcuffed. One of the Palestinian men is being dragged on the ground while another is kicked in the head. 

One of many images analysed by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence lab depicted three Palestinian men who were stripped to their underwear, severely beaten, and later urinated on. One of the men in the image was identified and gave this testimony to Amnesty International: “One of the Israeli officers who came, approached me and kicked me on my left side, then jumped on my head with his two legs pushing my face further into the dirt and then continued kicking me as I was head down, into the dirt, with my hands tied behind my back. He then got a knife and tore all of my clothes off except for my underwear and used part of my torn clothes to blindfold me. The beating to the rest of my body did not stop, at one point he started jumping on my back — three or four times — while yelling ‘die, die you trash’ … in the end, before this finally stopped, another officer urinated on my face and body while also yelling at us ‘to die.’”

Amnesty International also spoke to a recently released Palestinian detainee from occupied East Jerusalem who — along with other inmates — was severely beaten by Israeli interrogators who broke 3 of his ribs. He described how Israeli interrogators would continually hit them on the head while yelling at them to keep their heads down. They would also order the Palestinian prisoners to praise Israel and curse Hamas, but even if they complied, “the beatings and humiliation did not stop.”

Imprisoned Palestinian women are not spared from abuse and humiliation. Additionally, they face gender-specific challenges including poor hygiene for menstruating women, medical neglect for pregnant women, humiliation, sexually explicit harassment, and threats of sexual assault. 

Anhar Al Deek was a pregnant Palestinian woman from the West Bank who spent five months in an Israeli prison and was subjected to solitary confinement, cruel treatment, and interrogation despite being pregnant. She was slated to become the ninth documented Palestinian woman to give birth inside a prison since 1972 until her case went viral and international pressure forced Israel to allow her to give birth under house arrest instead. She spoke to local reporters about her experience, saying: “I was battered severely, even though I said that I was pregnant. They hit me on my head, back, and belly. They didn’t care. It was very cold. Even though I stated that I was pregnant and wanted a bed and blanket, they did not give me anything.”

Ibrahim Shaheen, a Palestinian man from Gaza who was released after 50 days of captivity where he was kept in a group that included 4 captive Palestinian women, shared his testimony about the treatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons with a journalist from Middle East Eye: “They brought two female prisoners into our division, or inside the detention tents we were in, naked. They only had underwear on. I was one of the men who took off my pants to throw to the girls so they could cover themselves. I was punished for three days consecutively [with] beating.” He also describes seeing one of the women enter interrogation with long hair and exit with it having been completely cut off. 

Zeina Abdo, an 18-year-old recently released Palestinian Prisoner who was arrested at 16 for posting a Palestinian flag online, spoke to AJ+ about her experience in Israel’s prisons: “They beat, cursed at and assaulted me. I spent six days with no sleep, no food, no water, in a room with four [soldiers] torturing me. They threatened to torture me with electricity and to kill me.”

Zeina is far from the only Palestinian child to be imprisoned and tortured in Israeli prisons — she’s also far from the youngest. 

According to UNICEF, approximately 700 Palestinian children per year, some as young as 12, are arrested, interrogated, and detained by the Israeli military. UNICEF also identified “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized” practices in these arrests “that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture.” 

Defence for Children International collected hundreds of affidavits from Palestinian child detainees between 2016 and 2022 (inclusive) and found that: 59% of the children were arrested at night; 86% were not informed of the reason for their arrest; 75% were subjected to physical violence; 55% were asked or made to sign a paper in Hebrew, which they do not understand; 23% were placed in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for two or more days; and nearly all of them were interrogated without a family member present. 

The case of Ahmad Mansara presents some of the most horrifying examples of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian children they imprison. Ahmad is a Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested at 13 years old for being with his 15-year-old cousin, who allegedly stabbed two illegal Israeli settlers and was almost immediately shot dead by another Israeli. Ahmad was then run over by an Israeli driver and severely beaten by an Israeli mob, who fractured his skull and left him with severe internal bleeding. A video of Ahmed gasping for help was widely circulated online in which he was on the ground as the Israeli mob encircling him swore at him, yelling,“Die, son of a whore, die!” among other pejoratives. He was then arrested and eventually admitted to a hospital. 

A second horrific video of Ahmad was later released, depicting parts of his interrogation by an Israeli officer. The officer aggressively yells at him and points to something on a monitor while Ahmad, with a pained expression and curved shoulders, replies softly before he’s interrupted by the officer’s yelling again. The interrogation goes on like this with Ahmad progressively breaking down under the officer’s verbal assault. Ahmad cries and hits his head in frustration or holds it in his hands, saying, “I don’t remember, I don’t remember, wallah, wallah, I don’t remember anything.” The officer yells at him about moving and tells him to sit properly, Ahmad complies and grips the seat of the chair for support, still crying. “I told you, I told you correctly, everything you said. Stop. What else do you want? Stop.” 

This treatment is only one example of how Israel tortures and coerces Palestinian children into giving false confessions—a relatively common occurrence according to Defence for Children International. 

Ahmad was charged and convicted with attempted murder, despite the court acknowledging that he did not participate in the attack. The torture continued in prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement for almost two consecutive years, “in brazen violation of international law” according to Amnesty International. He now suffers from a range of mental and physical health issues including schizophrenia and severe depression.

Not only are these Palestinians unfairly imprisoned, they’re also tortured, and their lives are forever changed. They exemplify typical Palestinian Political Prisoner stories, and freeing Palestine must also mean freeing Palestinian Prisoners, both present and future ones. Break the chains—free them all.



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