Israel has detained 1,600 Palestinians in the first few months of 2019, including 230 children and 40 women.
According to a new report by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)'s Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy, since the start of this year, Israel has detained 1,600 Palestinians, 230 of whom were children and 40 of whom were women. Of these Palestinians, 500 were placed in administrative detention, which allows detainees to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The report also issued figures on child detentions in 2018, showing that Israel detained some 3,255 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 over the course of the year. According to the Jerusalem Post, some 70 per cent of these children "were threatened with violence, including rape, castration, home demolition, imprisonment for life and denial of food". "More than 75% of child prisoners reported being blindfolded," the Israeli daily added.
The Israeli army has sought to defend its conduct in the wake of the report, with an army spokesperson telling the Jerusalem Post that: "In such cases, there is no choice but to take steps, including interrogation, detention and prosecution […] Cases against minors are handled in the juvenile military court, which examines the severity of the offense and the risk posed by the minor, taking into account his age and other special circumstances."
The report was released yesterday to coincide with Palestinian Prisoners' Day. The Palestinian Authority (PA)'s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement to commemorate the occasion: "On this day, Palestinians honour those who have sacrificed their freedom and endured abuse, torture, and injustice so that their people may enjoy their fundamental right to freedom, dignity, and justice."
The statement continued: "Today, 5,700 Palestinians, including 250 children, are held captive in Israeli prisons and detention centres, enduring deplorable conditions and subjected to systematic and grave human rights violations […] we urge the international community to take action to compel Israel, the occupying power, to cease these condemnable practices."
Israel's treatment of Palestinian prisoners was thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks by events taking place in the Ramon and Al-Naqab (Ketziot) facilities, located deep in the Negev desert in the south of the country.
In March, the Israeli Prison Service imposed fines on 96 prisoners in Al-Naqab prison and 74 prisoners in Ramon prison thought to amount to 250,000 shekels ($68,000). The fines were imposed in addition to other disciplinary measures, including holding prisoners in solitary confinement, forcing them to sleep while handcuffed and preventing their families from visiting.
Just days earlier, Israeli prison guards attacked Palestinian prisoners in Al-Naqab, raiding their cells, targeting them with teargas and severely beating them. Over 25 prisoners were injured in the crackdown, 15 of whom sustained life-threatening injuries. Israel claimed this came following the stabbing of two Israeli wardens by prisoners, which it says escalated into a riot.
The crackdown also came against the backdrop of a longer assault on the rights of Palestinian prisoners. In February, Israel's prison administration installed phone jamming devices at Al-Naqab and Ramon prisons, which emit powerful radiation to stop radio and television signals from penetrating into the area, in a bid to stop prisoners maintaining contact with the outside world.
As a result of the jamming devices, prisoners suffered from depression, headaches, and fainting, with experts saying the radiation can lead to "genetic deformities of human cells and cancer".
In response, prisoners began a hunger strike in protest against their treatment, calling on the Palestinian people to stand by them and support their "battle of dignity". Hundreds of prisoners across a number of facilities joined the strike, before finally calling an end to the protest this week after Israel agreed to their demands to remove the devices and install pay phones to allow prisoners to call their families.