Israel frees dozens of Palestinians in administrative detention, citing lack of space

All those freed Thursday were set for release in the month of March; Ben Gvir rails against decision, noting its proximity to a West Bank terror attack

Police and soldiers stand outside the entrance to Ofer Prison outside Jerusalem, where Palestinian terror convicts will be released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police and soldiers stand outside the entrance to Ofer Prison outside Jerusalem, where Palestinian terror convicts will be released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas, November 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IDF and Shin Bet said Thursday night that some 40 Palestinian suspects held under administrative detention had been released, saying the move was aimed at freeing up space “for detainees of a higher threat level.”

The statement noted the released suspects had been slated to be freed in the coming month.

Administrative detention is a controversial tool whereby Palestinian terror suspects and, more rarely, Jewish terror suspects, are detained without charge or trial. The tool is typically used when authorities have intelligence tying a suspect to a crime but do not have enough evidence for charges to stand up in a court of law.

The detentions must be renewed by a military court every six months, and prisoners can remain in jail for years under the mechanism. Israel says administrative detention is a tool that helps keep dangerous terrorists off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir railed at the release, claiming they were not, in fact, freed due to overcrowding.

“[They were released] because of the direct order of the Shin Bet head as a ‘gesture’ ahead of Ramadan,” the far-right politician alleged.

Ben Gvir said the Israel Prisons Service, which is under his authority, “has no judgment on the matter.”

He also fumed at Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar because the release took place on the same day two Israelis were killed in a terror shooting in the West Bank and a day after the extension of a settler activist’s administrative detention.

“It is worrying that on the day that two Jews were murdered, the head of the Shin Bet chooses to pay tribute to the murderers,” he wrote.

Activists estimated in February that the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails had swelled to around 9,000, from about 5,200 before Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, when terrorists from Gaza invaded southern Israel and slaughtered about 1,200 people, most of them civilians in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapped 253.

Israeli prison authorities announced a state of emergency after October 7 to prevent the potential involvement of inmates in further unrest.

Popular Palestinian station Radio Ajyal has since been inundated with messages from prisoners’ relatives reporting tough restrictions on detainees, including the denial of visitations and phone calls.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club advocacy group said visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross have also stopped. Both the ICRC and Israel declined to comment, but Israel has previously said that ICRC visits were suspended until Hamas allows the Red Cross access to the hostages in Gaza.

While some Palestinians are detained without known charges, the most common grounds for arrest range from online calls for violence to alleged terrorist activity.

Palestinian-American Samaher Esmail, who was detained after posting terror-related content on social media, was also released on bail on Thursday after three weeks of imprisonment. Her arrest made waves in the international community due to her dual citizenship, with her son Suliman Hamed, who lives in New Orleans, raising awareness of her situation on social media as well as mainstream news media.

This undated family photo shows Samaher Esmail, a Palestinian-American from Louisiana who is being tried in Israeli military court for incitement, pictured on a family trip to Turkey. (Family handout via AP)

Esmail’s lawyer charged that Israeli forces beat her during the arrest, did not give her time to put on her hijab and her Israeli interrogator did not ask properly if Esmail wanted an attorney present.

It was not clear if Esmail was counted among those released Thursday or whether her release on bail was a separate matter.

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