There are approximately thirty prison facilities in Israel. One of them is Megiddo Prison. It sits at the crossroads of highway 65 and 66, amongst fields, north of the West Bank and is a few miles west of a McDonalds. Megiddo is a violent looking building: low and squat, its perimeters marked out by high concrete walls and thick metal fencing topped with rings of sharp razor wire. A pair of dense white gates are the only way in. Protruding out of the prison grounds is a brutish octagonal watch tower that is visible from a distance. When approaching the prison, the first sound you hear is of barking dogs.
A few hundred yards north of the prison is Tel Megiddo, an ancient mound dating back 7,000 years, and identified as the site of the prophesied Armageddon, or Final Battle. As mentioned in the Book of Revelation, it is here that ultimate justice will be dispensed – an irony not lost on the thousands of illegally detained Palestinians that have passed through the prison’s menacing gates.
Israel’s zealous detention of Palestinians is common practice, yet the transparency of this policy is very deliberately murky. Those detained are heavily restricted in their contact with the outside world and frequently denied proper legal support. Little is reported by the Israeli authorities on who is being held, where, and most importantly why.
Israel’s arbitrary capture-and-detain approach to Palestinians is coded in a discriminatory and tyrannical set of Kafkaesque ordinances, collectively known as Administrative Detention. Under this framework Palestinians can be incarcerated on the mere suspicion that she or he may break the law at some point in the future. Their confinement has no time limit and there is no automatic recourse to a trial or proper legal proceedings. The individual is detained by order of the military and the basis or evidence for their detention does not have to be revealed to them. In short, you can be indefinitely vanished for reasons unknown to you and you have no legal right of representation.
Prior to October 7th, 2023, it was believed there were approximately 5,000 political Palestinian prisoners, including roughly 1,000 in Administrative Detention, 170 children and 30 women.
On October 8th, a new wave of arbitrary arrests began. It is believed 4,000 Gazans who were legally working in Israel or visiting the West Bank have been detained, 1,000 of them interned at a military camp near the city of Beersheba. These are civilians with legitimate reasons for travelling, and none of them have been provided access to legal representation. It is projected the final number of in-transit-Gazans arrested after October 7th will be closer to 8,000.
A further 1,500 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank have also been arrested. Video footage shows Israeli army snatch squads breaking into homes and seizing residents. According to Palestinian sources, the arrest rate is running close to one hundred a day. Eighty-five Palestinians were arrested during the evening of October 25th and the early hours of October 26th alone, most from small villages such as Kobar near Ramallah, Idhan near Hebron, and Biddo near Jerusalem. What we are witnessing is mass incarceration on a scale not seen for decades.
Current estimates now put the total number of Palestinians detained at around 10,500 including children, journalists, and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, with 1,600 in Administrative Detention. At the time of writing, there is no public record of any of those arrested since October 7th being charged.
The Violation of Rights.
If arrest for Palestinians is arbitrary, detention is indisputably wicked.
Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) was established in 2013 with the goal of raising awareness of the violence inflicted on Palestinian children who had been arrested by the Israeli military and security services. The DCIP took testimonies from 766 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank who had been arrested and detained between 2016 and 2022. A summary of its findings was published in May 2023 and came with a trigger warning. The report concluded: 75% experienced physical violence, 97% were hand-tied, 89% were blindfolded, 80% were strip searched, 59% were arrested in the middle of the night, 58% faced verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation, 66% were not properly informed of their rights, 97% were interrogated without the presence of a family member, 25% were subjected to physical stress positions, 55% were shown or signed documents in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children aren’t proficient in, and 23% were isolated in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for two or more days.
In July 2023 Save the Children released their report on the treatment of Palestinian children during arrest and detention. They arrived at similar findings.
If such brutal practices are commonly enacted against children, you are left wondering how adult detainees are treated.
Practices that should have shamed Israel’s security bureaucracy and its government have instead become standard operating procedure.
Since October 7th Israeli security and prison services have effectively isolated all 10,500 Palestinian political prisoners. Family visits are no longer permitted and access to lawyers is heavily restricted and often denied. Communal areas such as exercise yards and canteens are closed, and television sets have been confiscated.
More alarming, electricity, water and food are severely rationed in what can only be seen as collective punishment, which is illegal under international humanitarian law. In many prisons electricity is only available between 6pm and 5am, hot water is supplied for forty-five minutes per day, and daily meals have been reduced to two, and are calorie deficient. Kettles and hot plates have been removed. Prison clinics have been shuttered and detainees who require more specialist medical care are no longer being transferred to outside health facilities. There are also reports of detainees being beaten.
Confined to cells that are now overcrowded, the detainees are experiencing what was described to me as a ‘slow and silent violence,’ something that plagues the people of Palestine wherever they are.
Omar Daraghmeh (Arabic: عمر دراغمة) is a distinguished looking man – his jet black hair would fool you into thinking he is younger than he is if it wasn’t for his snow white beard. He is in fact fifty-eight, a father of four and from the town of Tubas in the West Bank.
Daraghmeh was arrested on October 9th along with his son Hamza, as part of a mass swoop by the Israeli security services. Despite having no outstanding warrants or pending charges against him, Daraghmeh was placed in Administrative Detention under the pretext of a ‘secret file.’
Daraghmeh, who was in good health, was held at Megiddo prison. He died unexpectedly on October 23rd while in custody. The prison service claim he died of a massive heart attack; others suggest he died during torture. The family is unable to determine the true cause of death as the government of Israel is refusing to handover Daraghmeh’s body.
As of July 2022, Israel was illegally withholding 105 dead Palestinian bodies. Some of the deaths date as far back as 2015.
On October 24th a second Palestinian detainee, twenty-five-year-old Arafat Yasser Hamdan (Arabic: عرفات ياسر حمدان ) from Beit Sira in the Ramallah District, died suddenly at Ofer Prison. He had been detained for less than forty-eight hours. This was his first arrest. He was married with a child.
Since 1967 there has been an average of four Palestinian prisoner deaths per year according to the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs; one-third died from denied medical care and it is assumed an additional third died from torture. Each has a name and a story, and they shouldn’t be remembered solely for their premature deaths, but also for who they would have become and what they would have achieved.
©2023 Sul Nowroz