Israel’s arrests of Palestinians ‘highest in years’

Some 1,268 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli occupation forces over the last two months.

Israeli security forces arrest Palestinian men following clashes outside Jerusalem''s Old city
Israeli occupation forces arrest young Palestinian men outside Jerusalem's Old city on July 21, 2017 [Reuters]

Israeli forces arrested some 1,268 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories over the last two months, according to rights groups.

Several non-governmental organisations, including the Ramallah-based Addameer prisoner rights group and al-Mezan rights centre in Gaza, released the figures in a joint press release published on Tuesday.

In June, the arrest of 388 Palestinians from across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, including 70 children and six women was documented.

In July, Israeli forces proceeded to arrest an additional 880 Palestinians, including 144 children and 18 women.

The rise in arrests intensified after the al-Aqsa crisis in occupied East Jerusalem, which began on July 14, after two Israeli guards were killed by three Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were shot dead.

More than 550 Palestinians were arrested over the past two months from Jerusalem alone.

“The reason why the number got higher in July is because of al-Aqsa uprising. Israelis started a mass arrest campaign during and following al-Aqsa events, which mainly targeted Palestinians from Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Laith Abu Zeyad, Addameer’s international advocacy officer, told Al Jazeera

“The number is definitely the highest in 2017, but I would [also] say the highest in years.”

According to Abu Zeyad, in October 2015, Israeli occupation forces arrested 1,195 Palestinians, including 177 children and 16 women. 

READ MORE: Israeli measures at al-Aqsa will ‘increase resistance’

The attack on al-Aqsa came against the backdrop of what has been termed the “Jerusalem Intifada (uprising)”, which began in October 2015. Since then, some 285 Palestinians have died in alleged attacks, protests and raids. Simultaneously, 47 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in car-ramming and knife attacks.

Following the attack, Israel responded by installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras at the entrances to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which was seen by Palestinians as an Israeli attempt to impose further control on the holy site.

For more than two weeks, Palestinians refused to enter al-Aqsa Mosque compound and resorted to praying outside, spurring a civil disobedience movement and international pressure that forced Israel to remove the added measures. 

But since the removal, Israeli forces have been targeting Palestinians across the occupied territories in nightly raids and arrests, which rights groups describe as a form of collective punishment and revenge for the Israeli retreat from its position surrounding al-Aqsa. 

“Israel’s campaign of arrest, whether it be in times of crisis or times of relative peace, is always a political tool and a form of collective punishment. It represents a premeditated policy of discouraging Palestinian political involvement, and an attempt to stop a people who are pursuant of their legitimate right to both self-determination and basic dignity,” said Abu Zeyad. 

“The current wave of arrests has been centred on Jerusalem and attempts to halt the spread of protests and activism throughout the West Bank. Such arrests represent collective punishment against a people who peacefully call for the Israeli authorities to maintain the status quo at the holy site,” he added. 

Amina al-Taweel, spokesperson for the Hebron-based Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, says the average figure of Palestinians arrested per day stands at about 20 to 25 over the past two months, with some days reaching over 150 during the al-Aqsa crisis. 

“Some of those arrested were sent back home in the same day, others after a week, while some others were given house arrest orders. About 70 percent of the more than 1,000 are still in detention,” Taweel told Al Jazeera. 

“It has become a systematic tool for oppression, to suppress any political backlash, to foil any attacks; there is not one clear reason for these arrests,” Taweel added. “Any one who has the potential to spur disobedience or to unify Palestinians for their cause is treated as a security threat, so they go after him or her.” 

Taweel estimated there were 170 orders for administrative detention last month alone. Administrative detainees are arrested on “secret evidence”, unaware of the accusations against them and are not allowed to defend themselves in court. Their detention periods can be indefinitely renewed. 

READ MORE: What it means to be a Palestinian prisoner in Israel

The arrests come in various forms, but mostly during night raids. “The period from 12am to 3am, at sunrise, is when everyone becomes nervous, especially when there is a sensitive political environment.

The occupation army surrounds the town and raids it. They break into the homes, sometimes by blowing up the entrance if the door is locked, they wreck the furniture and search the house. They usually put the family in one room and interrogate the person they’re after in another room, and then detain him or her,” explained Taweel. 

Other forms of arrests take place during crackdowns by Israeli forces during protests or confrontations with Palestinians. Israeli forces, posing as Arabs – known as “mistaarivim” in Hebrew – also arrest Palestinians by assimilating with them in their towns and villages.

Umm Firas, a mother whose son, Mohammed, was recently arrested and released from the neighbourhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, said Israeli forces detained her son twice over the past three weeks.

“In the latest arrest, they came in the evening for the first time. We were sitting together and they took him from me. They handcuffed him at the entrance to the house,” Umm Firas told Al Jazeera. “They arrested him and took him to court the next day, but found no evidence of anything against him.” 

“They come in without even knocking on the door. The way they come into the house is very violent. They come armed from head to toe in a very barbaric way. More than 15 [soldiers] come into the house, each one with their hand on the rifle,” said Umm Firas, describing the way the Israeli forces arrested her son. 

“People were coming over to congratulate him over his release – and then they arrested him again – his grandmother was going to faint,” added Umm Firas, saying they also took her 71-year-old sister’s husband in Hebron. 

“They don’t want people to defend al-Aqsa.” 

Source: Al Jazeera