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The Prison Intifada: Supporting Palestinian Administrative Detainees
The Israeli regime makes widespread use of administrative detention, where Palestinians — framed as a danger to “security” and “public order” — across colonized Palestine are detained for indefinite periods without charge or trial. This policy brief provides historical and legal context for Israel’s use of administrative detention against Palestinians, and explains how the practice relates to the broader functioning of Israeli military courts and their criminalization of Palestinian activism.
The brief highlights Palestinian administrative detainees’ 2022 collective boycott of military courts and situates it within the wider repertoire of Palestinian resistance to Israeli carceral policies. While the boycott was called off in June 2022 with some gains for the detainees, it affirmed that collective action is needed to end the Israeli regime’s use of administrative detention. The brief thus offers recommendations for how Palestinian political leadership, civil society organizations, activists, and local and international solidarity groups can collectively do so.
The Israeli regime justifies administrative detention as necessary for “security” purposes. In practice, however, Israel never adheres to restrictions set by international law, which permit states’ recourse to this measure only in exceptional circumstances. Detainees are frequently prevented from accessing effective legal defense because judges may receive “secret” evidence — undisclosed due to “security” considerations — in the absence of detainees and their counsel. Moreover, contrary to the Israeli courts’ purported claim that detention orders are judicially reviewed, detainees attest that they are only released following the approval of the Israel Security Agency (the Shabak).
Fundamentally, Israel’s use of administrative detention is a form of psychological warfare: it subjects detainees and their families to a perpetual state of uncertainty, as detainees never fully know when they will be released. But more broadly, Israel’s widespread resort to administrative detention affects all Palestinians under Israeli control. Palestinians from the river to the sea live in a reality in which they do not know when, why, or for how long they might be arbitrarily imprisoned. This was made apparent by the Israeli regime’s extensive use of administrative detention during and following the 2021 Unity Intifada.
For as long as Israel has employed administrative detention, however, Palestinian detainees have resisted with protests inside prisons, individual or collective hunger strikes, and boycotts of military courts. The efficacy of hunger strikes in particular is constantly debated among Palestinians, but it is worth noting that they have gained international attention and illustrate the centrality of administrative detention for the Israeli regime. Even if these tactics have only succeeded in securing the release of individual detainees, their consistent use and historical duration has meant that administrative detainees fulfill a critical and strategically symbolic role in the broader Palestinian liberation struggle.
On January 1, 2022, the nearly 500 administrative detainees held in Israeli prisons at the time launched a collective boycott of military courts and called on lawyers not to attend court sessions nor to engage in judicial processes related to their detention. Moreover, in their public statement, the detainees threatened to undertake a collective hunger strike if the boycott did not succeed in forcing Israel to end the policy. By framing these escalating moves as part of a “mass united resistance movement,” the detainees affirmed their conviction in the power of collective action.
The 2022 boycott demonstrated the importance of collective action in ending the Israeli regime’s policy of administrative detention. To support Palestinian prisoners in their intifada and to ensure that this long-standing policy comes to an end:
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) and its associated Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs should highlight the detrimental effects of administrative detention on Palestinians to the international community, and advocate for an end to this policy in all international forums, including by demanding Israel be held accountable for its violations of the international human rights laws it ratified.
- Palestinian civil society organizations, including those working on issues related to prisoners, should continue to rally support for Palestinian administrative detainees both locally and internationally.
- Across colonized Palestine, Palestinians and their allies should more actively organize public events and protests in support of Palestinian prisoners, including administrative detainees.
- The families of administrative detainees should establish a working committee which could centralize solidarity efforts on behalf of detainees. This step, mirroring other committees organized in Palestine and internationally (Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for instance), would further shed light on the policy’s broader impact on Palestinian society.
- International Palestine solidarity groups should include the Israeli regime’s carceral system in their boycott and divestment campaigns. These campaigns should target any companies benefitting from the Israeli carceral system. They should also amplify calls to end the Deadly Exchange program between Israeli and US law enforcement agencies — tactics that manifest in prisons and detention centers across colonized Palestine.