Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.
The group, HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities, said that 798 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a practice where the prisoners can be held without charge practically indefinitely and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
Official data published by the Israel Prison Service at the end of September put the number at 790, up from 665 in July.
The group said the number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the West Bank in response to a spate of deadly terror against Israelis earlier this year.
Israel says the policy 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. The detentions must be renewed by a military court every six months, and prisoners can remain in jail for years under the mechanism.
Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
“Administrative detention should be an exceptional measure, but Israel makes wholesale use of this detention without trial,” said Jessica Montell, HaMoked’s executive director. “This has to stop. If Israel cannot bring them to trial, it must release all administrative detainees.”
HaMoked said the figure was a new peak in a growing wave of administrative detentions which began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people. In another suspected attack in September, an elderly woman was killed by a Palestinian man in the central city of Holon.
Those attacks sparked the Israeli raids that have killed more than 100 Palestinians, mostly gunmen who attacked troops, or teens who violently protested the Israeli raids, but some bystanders have also died in the violence.
The Shin Bet security service says more than 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the year, including those held in administrative detention.
The Israel Defense Forces says the raids are necessary to dismantle terror networks and to thwart attacks against Israelis. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over the territory they see as part of a future state.
The raids have been met by an uptick in shooting attacks in the West Bank. On Sunday, the IDF said a soldier and a motorist were lightly wounded in two separate incidents.
The last time Israel held as many administrative detainees, in May 2008, also coincided with an increase in violence in the region.