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Grid fence with barbed wire, September 27, 2018, in Central District, Israel


 Kolderal, Getty Images

Feature Story

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Hundreds of Jerusalemite Families Are Anxious about the Fate of Their Captive Children


Thousands of Palestinian prisoners face excruciating conditions in Israeli prisoners across the country. Since Israel declared war on Gaza in October 2023, conditions have worsened.

This year, the commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on April 17 comes amid harsh and exceptional conditions experienced by more than 9,400 male and female prisoners inside Israeli prisons that extend from the north to the south of Palestine, according to data obtained from the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

Nothing has been the same since October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched Operation al-Aqsa Flood and Israel in turn declared war on the Gaza Strip. Palestinians from Gaza who were captured and imprisoned by Israeli troops during the war are experiencing conditions described as nothing short of inhumane in Israeli prisons and detention centers.

Palestinian Prisoners’ Day was established by the Palestinian National Council in 1974 as a national day for the freedom of prisoners. This day serves to unify efforts and activities aimed at supporting prisoners and upholding their right to freedom.

This year, their numbers are higher than ever.

HaMoked: Center for Defense of the Individual has published new data about Palestinian prisoners that was updated by the Israeli Prison Service:

Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Prisons as of April 1, 2024

Category No.*
Sentenced prisoners 2,071
Remand detainees 2,731
Administrative detainees** 3,661
“Unlawful combatants”    849
Total 9,312

*Based on data from the Israeli Prison Service
**Detention without charge based on secret files

According to HaMoked, as of November 2023, the category “unlawful combatants” also includes “Palestinians who are residents of the Gaza Strip and are held pursuant to Israel’s Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, 5762–2002. Unlawful combatant—a category which does not exist in international law—is defined in Israeli law as ‘a person who has participated either directly or indirectly in hostile acts against the State of Israel or is a member of a force perpetrating hostile acts against the State of Israel, where the conditions prescribed in Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 12th August 1949 with respect to prisoners-of-war and granting prisoner-of-war status in international humanitarian law, do not apply to them.’ These figures do not include detainees from the Gaza Strip held by the Israeli military.”1

Palestinian Jerusalemites

Since launching its genocidal assault on Gaza on October 7, 2023, Israel has dealt with Palestinian Jerusalemites with an iron fist policy, resulting in unprecedented and varied arrest cases. On the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Jerusalem Story sheds light on this segment of Jerusalemite society through the Family Committee of the Jerusalemite Prisoners.

Committee chair Amjad Abu Asab told Jerusalem Story that 1,900 Palestinian Jerusalemite men and women have been arrested since October 7, 2023. The courts released 80 percent of them after hours or days with the condition of either limited or open house arrest, or deportation from the Old City or from al-Aqsa Mosque.2

1,900 Palestinian Jerusalemite men and women have been arrested since October 7, 2023.

Palestinians demand release of their family members imprisoned by Israel, Damascus Gate April 17, 2012

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Palestinians hold portraits of relatives jailed in Israeli prisons as they protest to demand for their release during a demonstration outside Damascus Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 17, 2012. At the time, at least 1,200 Palestinian inmates of Israeli jails had begun an open-ended hunger strike as rallies across the occupied territories marked Prisoners’ Day.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Young Palestinian man was released from an Israeli prison and reunited with his family in East Jerusalem in November 2023.

On November 28, 2023, Palestinian Hamza Raid Hamza El-Magrib, 17, was released from an Israeli prison as part of a prisoners’ swap deal between Israel and Hamas, and reunited with his family and relatives in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Bahir in East Jerusalem.


Saeed Qaq, Instagram feed

According to Abu Asab, around 600 Palestinian Jerusalemites, including 5 girls and 45 minors, are currently detained at Megiddo Prison in northern Israel. Among them, 56 are held under administrative detention and 43 are serving life sentences. Dozens of them are sick. One of the most severe cases involves the wounded prisoner Ayman al-Kurd, who was injured in front of Jerusalem’s Bab al-Sahira in 2016, one of the historical gates in the city, after being shot for allegedly stabbing two Israeli police officers. Al-Kurd suffers from paralysis in the lower part of his body and lives in a wheelchair, with the harsh prison conditions exacerbating his suffering.

56 Palestinian Jerusalemites are held under administrative detention.

The oldest Jerusalemite prisoner is Omar Abdel Rahim, 71, who was placed under administrative detention immediately after his arrest on October 7, 2023. In April 2024, his detention was administratively extended for another four months.

Further, former minister of Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arafeh and Ahmed Attoun, elected as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in 2006, are under administrative detention and barred from entering Jerusalem. Abu Asab explained that they are classified as sick Jerusalemite prisoners.

In addition to the hundreds of Jerusalemite prisoners behind bars, 70 Jerusalemites, including children and adults, are under varying periods of house arrest, according to Abu Asab.

Abu Asab claimed that one of the many prominent features of arrests that the Family Committee of the Jerusalemite Prisoners has been able to monitor since the outbreak of the Gaza war is that most Jerusalemite arrests are charges of “incitement and supporting terrorism” based on reports by Israeli police and prosecution. This charge has become immensely vague, so much so that dozens of Jerusalemites have been arrested merely for posting a Quranic verse, a supplication, or a Prophetic hadith on their social media pages.

Case Study Deported for Not “Showing Loyalty”: The Case of Four Jerusalem Officials Whose Residency Was Revoked after a 12-Year Legal Battle

When legally participating in your nation’s elections results in deportation from the city of your birth

A Palestinian woman with a Quran in her hand is arrested by Israeli officers in East Jerusalem in October 2023.

An elderly Palestinian woman in East Jerusalem with a Quran in her hand is arrested by Israeli officers in October 2023.


Saeed Qaq, Instagram feed

“The occupation resorted to demonizing every post and image and categorized them as supporting terrorism. Women were arrested in the streets after being forced to open their phones and search them for any image or post related to Gaza events or in support of Palestinian resistance,” Abu Asab said. He also described the arrests following the Gaza war as “loud” in terms of beating, torture, and assaults on Jerusalemites, merely for smiling or looking at their phones. Arrests on such charges can result in the accused being remanded and held in prison until the legal proceedings against them come to an end.

This treatment has created a state of psychological strain among Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere as they move through the streets, to the extent that some no longer carry their phones or engage with many applications, especially WhatsApp, for fear of being incriminated due to images and videos received through group chats. The pursuit has also included many elderly imams and preachers of Jerusalem mosques in neighborhoods such as al-‘Isawiyya, Shu‘fat, and Beit Safafa.

Blog Post “Raise Your Hands and Give Us Your Phones!” Palestinian Jerusalemites Silenced in Their Private and Public Spaces

Yet another newly passed “emergency” law allows Israeli police to search Palestinians’ phones and arrest them on charges of hate speech or incitement.

Revocations of Legal Status Increasing, Grounds Expanding

The persecution of Jerusalemite prisoners does not stop at humiliation and abuse during and after their arrest. Israel is also intensifying efforts to strip them of their permanent-resident status and seeking ways to facilitate that drastic step. For example, on Thursday, February 15, 2024, Israeli Minister of Interior Moshe Arbel announced that he had revoked the permanent-residency status of prisoner Majd al-Jubeh for “breach of loyalty,” allegedly for belonging to Hamas and being an active leader in the city.3 Al-Jubeh, a father of five, works as the imam of the al-Adna al-Hamra Mosque in the Old City. Al-Jubeh’s family awaits the final decision on this matter from the Israeli attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara. Arbel did the same to Jerusalemite prisoner Rashid al-Rashq, who stands accused of belonging to a Hamas military unit planning attacks on Israelis.

Moreover, Abu Asab revealed that officers from the Israeli intelligence agencies summoned many Jerusalemite Palestinians during the war and informed them that their names were on a list of 200 Jerusalemites who could have their permanent-resident status revoked. Consequently, this decision would cause them to lose their right to reside in the holy city.

“The law is loose and gives the intelligence officer the authority to recommend to the minister of interior to revoke residency rights and expel the Palestinians from their city,” Abu Asab said.

As for the violations endured by Jerusalemite prisoners within prison walls since October 7, Abu Asab said that in addition to confiscating televisions, radios, and electronics from all sections, the prisoners have suffered the most from suppression. Special units were introduced to torture and humiliate them, isolating them from the outside world. Additionally, the prisoners were forced to kiss the Israeli flag and the guards’ shoes to humiliate them. The guards also focused several of their insults at the Palestinian resistance, factions, and their symbols.

“Children and elderly alike were beaten and treated like young men. Copies of the Quran were seized and communal prayers, and sometimes individual ones, were prohibited . . . Some of the released prisoners told us that the prisoners’ hands were tied behind their backs, their feet forward, and they were all thrown on their faces, while guards and officers attacked them around the clock,” Abu Asab added.

Officers from Israel arrest a group of young men and one woman in Jerusalem’s Old City in April 2022.

Israeli officers arrest a group of young men and one woman in Jerusalem’s Old City in April 2022.


Saeed Qaq, Instagram feed

Abu Asab, who works as director of a medical center in Jerusalem, has seen how some of the prisoners looked when they left the prisons: with broken limbs and ribs, and some suffering from internal bleeding. They all came out with unkempt hair, long beards, and a sharp drop in weight due to the scarcity and poor quality of food.

Due to threats and intimidation, most prisoners refuse to speak to the media after their release. Some of them, along with their families, were coerced into signing an agreement that prevented them from speaking, resulting in hefty fines if violated.

Over the past six months, the families of the 600 prisoners have been living in a state of great anxiety, fearing the fate of their sons, especially after the repeated incidents of prisoners dying inside the prisons. The first victim was Thaer Abu Asab; the most recent victim was Walid Daqqa.

“I see fear and anxiety in the eyes of mothers and wives who want to check on their prisoners but there is no way to do so except through scarce information that is only released when one of the prisoners is released,” Abu Asab said.

Jerusalem’s High Rate of Child Arrest

Abu Asab also discussed how Jerusalem has the highest percentage of child arrests. The city has seen the highest percentage of arrests in this category since the summer of 2014, when Jerusalemite boy Muhammad Abu Khdeir was burned alive by settlers.

A young Palestinian boy was released from an Israeli jail and reunited with his family in East Jerusalem in November 2023.

Qassam Mahmoud Attoun, 16, was released from an Israeli jail as part of a prisoners’ swap deal between Israel and Hamas, and reunited with his family in the Sur Bahir neighborhood of East Jerusalem on November 28, 2023.


Saeed Qaq, Instagram feed

“Palestinian children in Jerusalem find themselves at a major crossroads, either succumbing to the mind-capture attempts pursued by the Israeli occupation through its programs and mass centers, or defending their existence, childhood, and the blood of Muhammad Abu Khdeir,” he added.

As Jerusalem’s children opt for the latter, they find themselves facing a large wave of arrests with investigators treating them as adults and refusing to allow their families to attend the interrogations, although the law permits it.

Abu Asab concluded the interview by describing Israel as a “criminal entity” that escalated its revenge against defenseless prisoners after its narrative was exposed to the world following the genocide it continues to perpetrate in Gaza. The numbers of detainees are bound to increase daily, especially in Jerusalem, he said.

Some Jerusalemites may soon see the light outside the prison walls because they know the specified date of their release. For others, however, such as Wael Qassem, the longest-serving Jerusalemite prisoner, who was convicted of carrying out a bombing at the Hebrew University cafeteria on July 31, 2002, and has been serving 35 life sentences, 22 of which he has already completed, the dawn of freedom seems distant, possible only through a prisoner exchange deal that involves them.

Jerusalem has the highest percentage of child arrests.



9,312 ‘Security’ Inmates Are Held in Prisons Inside Israel,” HaMoked, last modified April 1, 2024.


“9,312 ‘Security’ Inmates Are Held in Prisons Inside Israel.”


Amjad Abu Asab, interview by the author, April 7, 2024. All subsequent quotations from Abu Asab are from this interview.


MEE Staff, “War on Gaza: Israel Withdraws Residency of Palestinian Man in Jerusalem,” Middle East Eye, February 15, 2024.

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