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Fact Sheet: Prisoners and Torture

Israeli military courts and thousands of military orders have governed the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (including PNA-controlled areas) since 1967.  Between 1967 and 1998, approximately 600,000 Palestinians were held in Israeli jails for periods ranging from one week to life.[1]  The transfer of Palestinians from the OPT to facilities inside Israel is a war crime under international humanitarian law.[2]


  • Since February 2002, Israeli occupying forces have regularly carried out mass arbitrary detentions without charge during invasions of Palestinian communities, often indiscriminately rounding up males between the ages of 15 and 45.  Many of these detainees are deprived of adequate shelter, food, and water during interrogation before being either released or transferred to detention facilities.

  • Torture remains common against Palestinian prisoners during interrogations by Israeli forces, despite a 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling outlawing some interrogation methods.  Such practices include: beatings, violent shaking, shining a hot burning light into the eyes and face at close range, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, painful shackling, and forcing prisoners to remain in excruciating positions for long periods of time.  Torture techniques are often designed to inflict maximum pain while minimising physical marks.  The UN Committee Against Torture reminded Israel in November 2001 that there can be no justification for torture under any circumstances.  Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, torture is a war crime.[3]

  • In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government can legalise torture if it wishes to do so.[4]  The Attorney General also stated that he reserved the right not to prosecute interrogators using “physical pressure.”

  • Prison conditions for Palestinians often fail to meet minimum basic standards.  Palestinian prisoners are kept in overcrowded jails, often exposed to extremes of temperature with inadequate nutrition and poor hygiene.  Access to medical care is also unsatisfactory.  Palestinian minors are sometimes confined with Israeli criminals, exposing them to physical and psychological dangers.

  • Since 1995, Israel has prohibited Palestinian lawyers from the OPT from practicing in Israeli courts.  Moreover, due to Israel’s closure policy, lawyers from the OPT cannot visit their clients in Israel, and visits by families are almost impossible, despite efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

  • Israeli military courts have long been criticised by human rights organisations for failing to meet international standards for fair trial.  Access to legal representation is often severely limited and evidence extracted through torture remains admissible.

  • Israeli military officers can issue administrative detention orders, which allow Palestinians to be detained without charge or trial for indefinitely renewable periods of six months.  Approximately 500 Palestinians arrested in Israeli incursions since March 2002 have been placed into administrative detention.

[Last updated 5 June 2002]


[1] Palestine Times, No. 83, May 1998.

[2] Article 147, Fourth Geneva Convention.  Also: “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein” (Article 76).

[3] Article 147, Fourth Geneva Convention.

[4] “If the state wishes to enable … interrogators to utilise physical means in interrogations, it must seek the enactment of legislation for this purpose,” Israeli Supreme Court decision on torture, para 37.