Palestinian women hold portraits of relatives in Israeli jails in support of a hunger strike by detainees, May 25, 2017.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

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Gaza War: Escalating Israeli Abuse of Palestinian Prisoners Is Hidden Front

Israel’s mistreatment of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli detention facilities, jails, and prisons is a hidden but raging front in Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza. The worsening conditions of these prisoners was one of the reasons Hamas gave for its surprise attack on October 7, 2023, and in the attack’s aftermath, Israeli government officials and security forces have doubled down, arresting hundreds more and abusing Palestinians in their custody.

“More than 2,500 [Palestinians] now are under administrative detention,” Raed Abu al-Hommous, the head of the international relations unit at the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs, told Al Jazeera English.1 “Six Palestinian prisoners were killed in the Israeli prisons. We believe that they were beaten till death. We have testimony from Palestinians that were arrested that the situation in Israeli prisons is very bad. It is a very critical situation.”

The number of Palestinian administrative detainees has swelled since October 7. Administrative detention allows the Israeli military to hold and detain Palestinians without charge or legal representation for six-month periods that can be renewed indefinitely. At the start of November 2023, there were already more Palestinians in administrative detention than at any point in the last two decades. In addition, about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners have been tried and convicted for political reasons, 300 of them from Jerusalem.2 

The number of Palestinians from Gaza being detained at the army-run military bases of Sde Teiman, in the Negev desert, and Anatot, in the West Bank, is unknown.3

Jerusalem’s Palestinians—often in close contact with Israeli police and security forces—are bearing the brunt of Israeli attacks on prisoners. Altogether, the number of Palestinians being held by Israel has increased by thousands since the start of the war last month. On November 21, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said that it had counted more than 3,000 Palestinians detained at checkpoints and in their homes, by being summoned, and through other means since October 7 (although these include those who were subsequently released).4 This number includes 145 children, the majority of whom were detained in Jerusalem.5

“More than 2,500 [Palestinians] now are under admini- strative detention.” 

Raed Abu al-Hommous, head of the international relations unit at the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs

Jerusalem’s Palestinians—often in close contact with Israeli police and security forces—are bearing the brunt of Israeli attacks on prisoners.

“The conditions inside the prisons, al-hamdulillah, are not great . . . There is a lot of suffering. They prevented us from having any electronic devices, because they don’t want us to hear the news outside,” said 17-year-old Omar Al-Shweiki from Silwan in Jerusalem, who was arrested in 2021 and released on the second day of the exchange.6 Fayrouz Al-Baw from Abu Dis, a college student detained since 2021 for allegedly trying to stab an Israeli soldier,7 said, “We’ve been beaten up. We entered a phase of total isolation. We lived in exile. We left a graveyard [behind].”8

Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank

Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian prisoners were transferred en route to the West Bank before their release as part of the hostage swap deal between Israel and Hamas



Punishing Prisoners and Their Families

On October 8, the day after the Hamas attack, Palestinians in prison were brutally attacked by their guards, a released prisoner told Al Jazeera.

“They shouted through the speakers telling all the prisoners to get inside their rooms, kneel down on their knees, put their hands on their heads, and to face away from the door, so you have no idea what’s happening behind you when they open the door,” explained 23-year-old Salah.

“Then they came in and started beating people, several rooms at once, with their hands, feet and batons, including metal ones,” he said. “They unleashed their dogs on us.”9

Days later, Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir ordered the removal of beds from prisoners’ cells, making them sleep on mattresses instead in order to “increase crowding” and make room for the hundreds of new political prisoners who were being detained.10 

On October 31, Israel extended a “state of emergency in prisons” allowing the national security minister to deny sentenced prisoners the right to legal and family visitation, outdoor time, adequate space in their cells, and basic needs such as electricity and water. Amnesty International also reported that prisoners have had their personal belongings confiscated and burned.11

Israel’s abuse of Palestinians in its custody has been systemic, occurring in central prisons, detention centers, and at bases in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) by soldiers. Amnesty International interviewed one prisoner who had been held at East Jerusalem’s al-Moskobiyya detention center. He described being beaten and asked to “praise Israel and curse Hamas.” He suffered three broken ribs as a result of the beatings.12 Two women held for 14 hours and then released without charge from an East Jerusalem police station reported being humiliated, strip-searched, and asked to curse Hamas.13 

Images and videos circulated online also showed prisoners being stripped down and abused by Israeli soldiers, and one man interviewed by Al Jazeera reported being sexually assaulted while in custody.14

On October 31, Israel extended a “state of emergency in prisons.”

Palestinian Thaer Abu Assab, 38, from Qarawat Bani Hassan, died in an Israeli prison in November 2023 while serving a 25-year sentence.

Thaer Abu Assab, age 38, from Qarawat Bani Hassan in the West Bank, died mysteriously on November 19 in Ketziot (Naqab) Prison while serving a 25-year sentence that began in 2005.



The Palestinian Detainees and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs Committee accused Israeli prison authorities of conducting extrajudicial assassinations by killing six Palestinians in Israeli custody.15 Their names are Thaer Abu Assab, 38, from Qarawat Bani Hassan in the West Bank, who died in Ketziot (Naqab) Prison while serving a 25-year sentence that began in 2005; Ahmad Mer’ey, 33, also from Qarawat Bani Hassan; Majed Zaqqoul, 32, along with another unknown prisoner from Gaza; Omar Daraghmeh, 58, from Tubas; and Arafat Hamdan, 25, from Ramallah. Lawyers have not been able to investigate these deaths due to Israeli restrictions.

Israel’s abuse of Palestinians in its custody has been systemic.

In a Gap: Palestinian Prisoners from Jerusalem

Unlike Palestinians in the West Bank who are subject to Israeli military law, Palestinians carrying Israeli permanent-resident IDs are subject to Israeli civil law as a result of Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem. Under civil law, individuals accused of “security offenses” may be detained for four days before seeing a judge, denied access to legal counsel for up to 21 days, and held in custody without charge for up to 64 days. When Palestinians with Israeli permanent-resident IDs are alleged to have committed crimes in the rest of the West Bank, however, Israeli military law applies. Moreover, Israeli prosecutors often bend the law to utilize this loophole and place them under administrative detention.16 Administrative detention can be repeatedly renewed and has far fewer legal protections.

Since the war on Gaza began, however, Israel passed emergency regulations extending the period that any Palestinian detainee can be denied access to a lawyer. As of October 24, even Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians holding Israeli permanent-resident IDs can now be detained for up to 30 days (instead of 10) without seeing a lawyer, and a judge can extend this period for up to 90 days (instead of 21).17

One example of the harsh penalties imposed lately by Israel’s courts on Palestinian Jerusalem residents was the November 12 sentencing of 16-year-old Nofuth Hammad of Sheikh Jarrah to 12 years in prison, a fine of NIS 50,000 (around $13,000) compensation for the victim, and three years’ probation. Hammad, a tenth grader at the time, was arrested in 2021 from her high school in East Jerusalem and charged with attempted murder of an Israeli settler.18 

She is the youngest Palestinian female prisoner currently held in Israeli prisons.19

Another severe consequence meted out to Palestinian detainees with Israeli permanent-resident IDs is the revocation of their legal status and right to reside in Israel. For example, Jerusalemite Ahmed Attoun was stripped of his residency in 2018 for running in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections as part of the Hamas-affiliated list (see “Deported for Not “Showing Loyalty”: The Case of Four Jerusalem Officials Whose Residency Was Revoked after a 12-Year Legal Battle”). But 25 different arrests, 17 years in detention, and expulsion from his native city to Bethlehem was not enough for Israel. In May 2023, shortly after his most recent release at the age of 55, Israeli forces again raided Attoun’s home in Bethlehem to detain him, treating him so roughly that he had to be transferred to a medical facility where his family was prevented from seeing him.20 

A few days later, he was sentenced to yet another four months of administrative detention.21

On February 15, 2023, the Israeli Knesset passed a law permitting the minister of interior to expel from East Jerusalem or Israel Palestinian prisoners who receive a stipend from the Palestinian Authority (PA). Palestinians consider these payments, made to prisoners and/or their families through the PA’s Martyrs Fund,22 as financial support for those who have sacrificed for the nation and for enduring the economic hardships of life under occupation; the funds serve as a vital lifeline for missing breadwinners.23

In June 2023, Israeli authorities raided the homes of 16 prisoners from Jerusalem and confiscated items on the basis that the families had received support payments from the PA.24 The police claimed that they confiscated NIS 270,000 in cash and gold (about $72,000) and seven vehicles and a motorcycle, while freezing 16 bank accounts. 

The Israeli interior ministry announced on November 17 that it was stripping two more Palestinian Jerusalemites of their permanent-resident status: Rashid al-Rishq and Majed al-Jubeh.25 Al-Jubeh, from Jerusalem’s Old City, has been detained numerous times, banned from visiting the West Bank, and banned from meeting with Jerusalem political figures.26 

In October, he was again put in administrative detention.27

Even after Palestinians are released from detention, they can be subjected to repeated harassment. Silwanic reported that a number of released detainees in Jerusalem were visited by Israeli police in November who levied municipal and other fines against them that were unrelated to their detentions.28 Special forces, municipal inspectors, and tax authorities participated in a joint raid on the family home of released prisoner Saif al-Natsheh. Fines of more than NIS 10,000 (about $2,500) were issued for minor building violations, water leakage from a hose, an untidy garden, and the improper or illegal registration of a vehicle. 

Backgrounder Precarious, Not Permanent: The Status Held by Palestinian Jerusalemites (Pt. 1)

An in-depth look at the extraordinarily precarious legal status held by Palestinian Jerusalemites, and how it has become more precarious over time

Prisoner Mistreatment Sparks War

When armed Palestinian fighters broke out of the confines of the Gaza Strip and raided several Israeli military bases, kibbutzim, and nearby communities, killing an as-yet undetermined number of Israelis,29 they also kidnapped more than 200 individuals 30 in order to swap them for Palestinian prisoners.31 This strategy has precedent. On October 18, 2011, then prime minister Ehud Olmert exchanged 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had spent five years in Hamas captivity.32 Yehya Sinwar, current leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was himself released from an Israeli prison in that exchange and later told a reporter, “It isn’t a political question. It’s a moral question. I view it as a duty. I will do everything to free everyone still in jail.”33 On November 24, Israel and Hamas began to implement a deal that exchanges some 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for 50 Israelis being held in by Hamas Gaza.

While Hamas’s reason for abducting the Israelis has been spotlighted, insufficient attention has been given to the Israeli crackdown on Palestinian prisoners in the months preceding October 7 and its role in the group’s decision-making. On September 5, 2023, Zaher Jabarin, the head of Hamas’s Office of Martyrs, Prisoners, and the Wounded emphasized that, “our next battle with the occupation is about prisoners.”34

When extreme right politician Ben-Gvir became responsible for Palestinian prisoner conditions as Minister of National Security at the end of 2022, he began implementing a series of changes more quickly than planned, causing prisoners to rebel. Shortly after Ben-Gvir took office, the prison service expedited a policy of transferring detainees out of their cells and to new locations more frequently. These new rules were intended, in the words of Palestinian Prisoner Society Spokesperson Amany Sarahneh, to “hit any type of stability in life that is formed inside the prison” after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison in 2021 (the six were either recaptured or killed). Communities formed in prison are an important support system allowing political prisoners to endure their long sentences. A prison crackdown against protesting female prisoners included dragging them by their hijabs and subjecting them to solitary confinement. For Hamas, these measures were a “red line,” leading them to fire a barrage of rockets at Israel on February 1.35

These new rules were intended to “hit any type of stability in life that is formed inside the prison.”

Amany Sarahneh, Palestinian Prisoner Society Spokesperson

Two weeks later, after Ben-Gvir ordered prison bakeries closed and restricted each prisoner to four-minute-long showers, the prisoners wrote him a letter: “With [these] steps against the security prisoners, [Ben-Gvir] is going to set the region on fire. [He] is using us for populist ends to cover up his failures, and whoever fails to provide security to the citizens will not be able to break us. We will respond to him with a war of liberation.”36 Hamas itself addressed a letter to foreign diplomats warning that changes to the conditions of prisoners “crossed all red lines” and that the issue was “a detonator.”37

On May 2, Palestinians mourned the death of venerated prisoner Khader Adnan in Israel’s Ayalon (formerly Ramla) Prison, after 87 days of a hunger strike to protest his systematic mistreatment. He spent a total of eight years in prison, six of them meted out via repeated administrative detention without trial. While Adnan was said to be affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Israel never tried him in a court for committing acts of violence. It was his fifth hunger strike, four of them to protest his administrative detention and a fifth against being held in solitary confinement.38

“Israel’s military courts and the practice of administrative detention invert the basic tenets of justice, automatically treating Palestinians as suspects simply because of their race, and help to maintain Israel’s cruel apartheid system,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.39

Since 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, more than one million Palestinians have spent time in its jails. That means that one in every five Palestinians has been arrested and charged with alleged political and security crimes, while two in every five Palestinian men have been imprisoned in their lifetimes.40

“With [these] steps against the security prisoners, [Ben-Gvir] is going to set the region on fire.”

Palestinian prisoners, in a letter to foreign diplomats sent in February 2023


Researcher: Amina Abdulhaq, Jerusalem Story

Editor: Nadim Bawalsa, Jerusalem Story



The living situation in Israeli prisons is very bad,” Al Jazeera English Facebook page, November 24, 2023.


Statistics,” ADDAMEER: Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, November 6, 2023. On September 30, the Israeli Prison Service reported to B’Tselem that 4,764 Palestinians were in detention or in prison for alleged security charges, and 932 Palestinians were being held for being in Israel illegally. “Statistics on Palestinians in Israeli Custody,” B’Tselem, November 20, 2023.


“The living situation”; “ADDAMEER Reviews the Most Recent Developments Inside the Occupation’s Prisons and the Ongoing Arrest Campaigns in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem,” ADDAMEER, November 22, 2023. ADDAMEER suggests there are 700 Palestinians from Gaza currently unaccounted for.


Brief on Detention Campaigns Carried Out by the Israeli Occupation Authorities,” Palestinian Prisoners Society, November 21, 2023.


On the Occasion of the International Children’s Day,” Palestinian Prisoners Society, November 20, 2023.


As Palestinian prisoners were released in an exchange for Israelis being held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza starting on November 24, more detailed reports of the condition of the prisoners began coming to light.


“Not Numbers: Palestinian Female Detainees in Israeli Occupation Jails, A Documentary Study 2000—2021,” Women for Palestine Center for Studies and Research (Gaza: Islamic University, 2022), 496.


Zena Al Tahhan, “‘He Threw Up Blood’: Palestinian Detainees Face Abuse in Israeli Custody,” Al Jazeera, November 1, 2023.


Carrie Keller-Lynn, “Ben Gvir Moves to ‘Overcrowd Prison Living Conditions’ in Response to Gaza War,” Times of Israel, October 12, 2023.


“Israel/OPT: Horrifying Cases.”


“Israel/OPT: Horrifying Cases.”


Palestinian Activist Attacked in the Occupied West Bank,” Al Jazeera, November 7, 2023.


East Jerusalem Prisoners,” ADDAMEER, December 2017.


Israeli Court Sentences MP Attoun to 4-Month Administrative Detention,” Palestinian Information Center, May 11, 2023.


The Palestinian Authority’s Martyrs Fund,” Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, accessed November 27, 2023.


Josef Federman, “Israel Approves Law to Strip Arab Attackers of Citizenship,” Associated Press, February 15, 2023.


While as of this day, the current running total of Israeli soldiers, police, emergency first responders, and civilians killed during these events stands at 1,105 according to Haaretz, the numbers are not yet finalized, and reports continue to surface that Israeli military activity on that day was also responsible for at least some of these deaths. Linda Dayan and Maya Lecker, “How Haaretz Is Counting Israel’s Dead from the October 7 Attack,” Haaretz, November 23, 2023; Anonymous Contributor, “A Growing Number of Reports Indicate Israeli Forces Responsible for Israeli Civilian and Military Deaths Following October 7 Attack,” Mondoweiss, October 23, 2023.


Hamas, reports NBC News, claims it only holds 70 Israeli soldiers and 50 women and children; the rest of the people Israel believes were kidnapped could be held by other armed groups. Ayman Mohyeldin, Anna Schecter, and Corky Siemaszko, “The Five ‘Extremely Excruciating’ Weeks of Talks That Led to the Hamas Hostage Deal,” NBC News, November 23, 2023.


Numbers recorded as of November 25, 2023. “Israel’s Dead: The Names of Those Killed in Hamas Attacks, Massacres and the Israel-Hamas War,” Haaretz, October 19, 2023.


Remembering the Gilad Shalit Prisoner Exchange Deal,” Middle East Monitor, October 18, 2020.


Michael Bachner, “‘I Don’t Want More Wars,’ Hamas Leader Claims in Interview with Israeli Paper,” Times of Israel, October 4, 2018.


Zena Al Tahhan, “Tensions Simmer among Palestinian Prisoners as Israel Cracks Down,” Al Jazeera, February 3, 2023.


“Israel/OPT: Death of Khader Adnan.”

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