Jerusalem - Hundreds of Palestinians arrested in the occupied West Bank over the past two weeks will be held in "administrative detention", nearly doubling the number of prisoners held indefinitely in Israeli jails.
These detainees are among more than 400 arrested in the Israeli army’s largest operation in the West Bank since the second Palestinian intifada (uprising). Thousands of troops have been deployed since three young Israeli settlers disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking home from their religious school in Kfar Etzion, an illegal settlement near Hebron.
Addameer, a prisoners’ rights group, said on Monday that more than 100 administrative detention warrants have already been approved by a military judge.
"We expect that number to rise quite significantly in the coming days," said Gavan Kelly, a member of the advocacy unit at Addameer. "A majority were accused of being members of Hamas, and a minority from Islamic Jihad."
Ha’aretz, which first reported the story on Sunday night, said that some 200 Palestinians could eventually be classified as administrative detainees, a tool Israel uses to hold prisoners without charge or trial.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the alleged kidnappings, and the army says most of the detainees are members of the group. The resort to administrative detention, however, suggests that Israel has little hard evidence tying them to the incident, or to any other crimes.
The defence ministry and the prime minister’s office both declined to comment on the detainees.
The use of administrative detention will heighten an already tense situation in Israeli prisons, where scores of Palestinian prisoners have joined a hunger strike against their indefinite detentions. The longest-striking member, Ayman Tbeish, has not eaten in nearly 120 days.
Their protest prompted the Israeli government to rush forward a bill allowing the prison service to force-feed detainees. It passed a first reading on June 9, and was set for a final vote on Monday, but was delayed because of last-minute objections from the centrist Yesh Atid party. The Knesset is now expected to vote next week.
More than 1,000 Israeli medical workers have signed a petition against the bill. It was organised by Physicians for Human Rights, a local NGO, which has denounced the law as unethical.
Members of Yesh Atid have also spoken out against the law, with one saying it was tantamount to legalising torture. A staffer for one of the groups campaigning against the bill said on Sunday, however, that she “wasn’t sure” whether the party would demand substantive changes or merely settle for another week of debate.
Hunger strikes have been an effective tactic for Palestinian prisoners: A lengthy hunger strike in 2012, led by Samer Issawi, who fasted for eight months, prompted Israel to agree to limit the use of administrative detention.
But the government reneged on that promise, rights groups say, prompting the current protest.
On Monday the Israeli army went a step further: It rearrested Issawi, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Ramallah-based advocacy group.