As It Happens

Why some advocates say all Palestinians detained in Israel are political prisoners

Lawyer Tala Nasir says every Palestinian being detained in Israel should be released and reunited with their families, regardless of what — if any — charges they face.

Of the 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, more than 2,000 are held without charge

A teenage boy wraps his hand around the head of a woman in a pink headscarf and kisses her.
Ahmad Salaima is welcomed by his mother upon his arrival at his home in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on Nov. 28, 2023, after 30 Palestinian detainees were released under an extended truce deal. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Tala Nasir says every Palestinian being detained in Israel should be released and reunited with their families, regardless of what — if any — charges they face.

Nasir is a staff lawyer and spokesperson for the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, an organization that advocates for the rights of Palestinian prisoners.

There are more than 7,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, according to Addameer and other rights organizations.

Amnesty International, citing testimony from released prisoners and human rights lawyers, has accused Israel of "torture and other ill-treatment" of Palestinians in custody over the past four weeks.

Of those detained, 2,070 are being held in what's called administrative detention without trial, up from 1,319 on Oct. 1, according to the Amnesty report.

Israel's justice ministry did not respond to a request for comment before deadline. The Israeli Defence Forces said it could not comment before deadline.

On Oct. 7, Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages. Israel retaliated with a complete siege and bombardment of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, killing 15,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan medical officials.

The violence showed no signs of abating until last week, when Israel and Hamas announced a temporary truce, mediated by Qatar. Since then, Hamas has released 81 hostages, and Israel has released 180 Palestinians.

Of the 350 Palestinians Israel says it is considering for release, 273 are under the age of 18 and the rest are women. 

Here is part of Nasir's conversation with As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong. 

You mentioned that many [Palestinians] are being held in what's called administrative detention. Can you just explain what that is?

Administrative detention is where Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons without a charge, without a trial, indefinitely…. It's an arbitrary detention.

I was looking through the list [of released Palestinians] earlier today and I noticed that some of them are listed as charged in civil court, and some of them are listed as charged in military court. Can you help us understand the distinction there?

Usually, Palestinians from the West Bank are being tried before the military courts, and Palestinians from Jerusalem are being tried before the civil courts.

[In] the military courts ... there's no due process. There's no fair trial guarantees in these military courts.

And there's quite a high conviction rate in the military courts.

We're talking about a more than 99 per cent conviction rate.

A man, shouting and smiling with one fist pumped in the air, steps out of a vehicle, surrounded by a crowd of people reaching towards him.
Released Palestinian prisoners arrive in the West Bank town of Ramallah Tuesday Nov. 28. (Nasser Nasser/The Associated Press)

A lot of these are teenagers charged with offences like stone throwing, but some of them … are charged with more serious crimes — placing explosives, several attempted murder charges…. Does that concern you, seeing people charged with much more serious crimes released as part of this exchange?

No, it doesn't, because [of] the system of the military courts and the lack of the guarantees of a fair trial and the violations to the due process.

We are not actually giving attention to these charges or these sentences because they are taken under torture and ill-treatment.

They are trying children before military courts, which lack the fair trial guarantees.

A lot of times you don't know the nature and cause of the charges, especially in administrative detention. It is not an independent or impartial tribunal. There is no right to a public trial. There is no right to assistance from an interpreter.

In your view, are there any Palestinians that are held in Israeli custody today whose detention is, in fact, legitimate?

We call every Palestinian detained in Israeli prisons based on their political activity a political prisoner. So all the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners inside prisons are political prisoners. And, of course, we demand their release, especially for the elderly, the sick … women [and] children.

A teenage boy in glasses sits on a couch between a man and a woman. He kisses the woman on the forehead as the man smiles into the camera.
Moataz Salaima, 15-years-old, kisses his mother upon his arrival at his home in east Jerusalem. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Of the ... Palestinians that have been released as we record this interview, do you have any sense of how they were chosen?

We actually have no idea how [they are] chosen. We only wait for the names to be published and then we know they are going to be released. 

What can you tell us about the conditions, and how those conditions might have changed since October 7th, of their detention?

After the 7th of October and as events escalated, we have documented many of the extensive violations inside Israeli prisons, including violent raids by Israeli special forces firing tear gas and beating prisoners, in addition to indefinite blanket bans on family visits, restrictions on lawyers' visits, prohibiting access to medical care, cutting off electricity in several prisons, and transferring a number of prisoners to isolation.

WATCH | Palestinians freed from Israeli prison:

Celebrations and smiles as Palestinians released from Israeli prison

3 months ago
Duration 0:40
Thirty Palestinians aboard an International Red Cross bus were visibly overjoyed after their release from Ofer prison as part of the truce between Israel's military and Hamas.

The Palestinians who have been released, are they abiding by the conditions that have been placed on them? For example, like they're not supposed to speak to the media?

Some of them are and some of them are not. Some of them are afraid if they go out and speak to the media, they will be re-arrested, just like they threatened them before releasing them.

Another organization [Adalah] that lobbies for the rights of Palestinian detainees says it's monitoring more than 100 cases of arrests and detentions linked to social media posts that … had, in some cases, merely contained expressions of solidarity with Palestinian people in Gaza or verses of the Qur'an. What do you know about that?

There are a number of Palestinians arrested on the charge of incitement on social media platforms. This is true.

Like many, Palestinians detained after the 7th of October are either held under administrative detention without a charge, or are being charged with incitement on social media platforms. And of course, this violates the right to expression and so on.

What sense do you have about how many Palestinians have been arrested since the attacks of October 7th?

The number of Palestinians arrested after the 7th of October has reached 3,290 detainees, including more than 125 female detainees, 41 journalists, 14 members of the Legislative Council, in addition to 200 children.

And if we talk about the last four days, more than 168 Palestinians were detained from the beginning of the truce. It is actually more than the number of released prisoners within this exchange deal. So massive arrest campaigns are still taking place at this time.

We have seen the truce extended ... as these exchanges of prisoners have taken place. How optimistic are you that we'll continue to see further releases of Palestinian detainees and of Israeli hostages still held by Hamas?

We are hoping for … [a] ceasefire and stop [to] the genocide in Gaza and the release of all political Palestinian prisoners. 

With files from Brishti Basu. Introduced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Edited for length and clarity

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