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Thousands of Palestinians are held without charge under Israeli detention policy

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas resumed today as the weeklong cease-fire came to an end. During the short pause in fighting, a total of 105 hostages captured by Hamas were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli custody. However, even with those hundreds of Palestinians released, the overall number of Palestinians taken into Israeli custody has increased since the start of the war, including around 2,500 who are held without any formal charges under a policy known as administrative detention. Here to help us understand more about the controversial policy is Philip Luther. He is a senior research and policy adviser for Amnesty International. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PHILIP LUTHER: Thanks very much indeed.

SUMMERS: Can you just start by helping us understand exactly what administrative detention is and also how extensively it's used by the Israeli military?

LUTHER: Sure. So administrative detention is a form of detention whereby individuals are detained by the state without any intent to prosecute them in a trial, and they're held on the basis of secret security information that the detainee and their lawyer cannot review. Israel has been using this form of detention since its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - so back to 1967.

SUMMERS: As I'm hearing you say that the secret security information, as you put it, is something that even a person who is detained and their lawyer is unable to review, then does the Israeli military ever give justification at all for these detentions?

LUTHER: No, except for very brief explanations that they are being held on security grounds. And it's important to understand this is a military system, effectively. The detainee is brought before a military judge. The military judge can impose a - normally it's a six-month administrative detention order, and it's up to that military officer to then decide whether that detention is extended. And it often is - up to a year, sometimes up to two years and beyond.

SUMMERS: What types of conditions are detainees held under?

LUTHER: Well, the first thing to say is that detainees are held in Israeli prisons in Israel. And in Israel, their families usually have a major problem visiting them, and so that in itself is a cruel system and exacerbates the conditions. Now, the situation has been exacerbated by the Israeli authorities' imposition of a state of emergency in prisons since the hostilities started in October. So that has given Israeli authorities and prisons virtually unrestrained powers to hold detainees in overcrowded cells and impose, in some cases, collective punishment measures such as cutting off water or electricity to their cells.

SUMMERS: I mean, we're obviously having this conversation in the middle of an ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. And as we've pointed out, hundreds of Palestinians have been detained since October 7. But there are those who might argue that Israel has the right to detain people that they believe are a threat to them, especially during a war. How would you respond to that?

LUTHER: Israel does indeed have the right and the duty to protect its citizens and not only its citizens but Palestinians if you live in areas that are controlled by Israel. So there's no question about that. But these are people who are being held on grounds that they cannot challenge, and that's the real problem. And it's not only that that's the problem. It's the fact that it's discriminatory. I mean, one of the major concerns in terms of security in the West Bank is Israeli settlers who are then attacking Palestinians, in some cases aided and abetted by Israeli security forces. They are not being subjected to administrative detention. In some cases, they're not being subjected to any form of scrutiny, and that's why there's such a problem here.

SUMMERS: That's Philip Luther of Amnesty International. Thank you.

LUTHER: Thank you very much indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Tinbete Ermyas
Avery Keatley
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.