JERUSALEM – Amnesty International has appealed to Israel to end the practice of imprisoning Palestinians suspected of militant activity without trial, calling in a report issued Tuesday for the release of hundreds of detainees.
The London-based rights group claimed that the prisoners are mistreated and that Israel is violating international law with its practice, known as "administrative detention," which Israel says is vital to prevent attacks.
The report, entitled 'Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial by Israel," lists torture and inadequate medical treatment in prison among violations it says are associated with the practice.
"Israel has a duty to uphold due process and fair trial rights, and to take effective action to end torture and other ill-treatment of detainees," said Sanjeev Bery of Amnesty.
The practice drew attention recently when Palestinian prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest against it. Two men, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, were on hunger strike for more than 70 days. Both are members of Islamic Jihad, a violent Palestinian militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis and maimed many more in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied the allegations of torture, saying it is forbidden in Israel, and said that prisoners are treated well and receive good medical care.
Under administrative detention, Israel can keep some prisoners in custody for months — even years — without charges. Israel has defended it as a necessary tool to stop militant activity.
"Amnesty International is calling for an end to the practice and the immediate release of all administrative detainees unless they are legitimately charged with an internationally recognized crime and tried according to fair trial standards," the report said.
The 56-page report includes statements from Palestinians who experienced administrative detention.
Regev said administrative detention is only used to hold those who pose an immediate security threat. "If we get information from someone whose neighbor is making explosives for suicide bombers and that evidence is presented in court, then terror groups will take violent action against him and his family," Regev said.
"Administrative detention is specifically allowed under international law, and it is factually incorrect to say otherwise," Regev said, pointing to Article 78 of the fourth Geneva convention. He said that other Western countries have the same practice.
Regev said administrative detention is used as a last resort, and the practice isn't used only against Palestinians believed to be involved in terrorism but is also imposed on Israeli extremists.
About 300 Palestinians are currently held in administrative detention, a sharp decline from past years. About a dozen Israelis were also held under the policy last year, the government said.
Critics condemn it because there are no charges, and judges can keep on extending detention time.
Regev said there is a mechanism of checks and balances in place to safeguard the process from abuse — judges review evidence and prisoners can appeal their detention.