Palestinian arrests in the West Bank have skyrocketed

There’s been a 100% increase in the number of Palestinians detained since Oct. 7. And watchdog groups are sounding the alarm on what they claim are ‘brutal’ conditions inside Israeli prisons. The grounds for the arrests are often murky, and many are put into administrative detentions that can last for weeks or months. At least 27 Palestinians have died while in Israeli prisons in the last eight months. Rebecca Rosman reports from Israel.

The World

Sameeha El Kafri wipes away tears as she tries to cook lunch for her family.

It’s been three months since she has had contact with her son, Yassin. 

In March, the 31-year-old father of three was arrested during a raid of their family home. He’s been in administrative detention since then, meaning the Israeli military is holding him without charges. 

Sameeha El Kafri shares a video of her son, Yassin, who has been held in Israeli administrative attention without charge since March.Rebecca Rosman/The World

El Kafri opens up a TikTok video of her son made just a few days before his arrest — he’s playing in a park with his three young kids. 

“He’s a family man,” she said, shaking her head in confusion. 

Yassin El Kafri, 31, is one of an estimated 9,300 Palestinians from the occupied territories who have been arrested since Oct. 7.Rebecca Rosman/The World

More than 9,300 Palestinians living in the West Bank have been arrested since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, according to figures from the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), a Ramallah-based group that monitors arrests. 

“We have seen about a 100% increase [in arrests] compared to the same period last year,” said Abdullah al-Zaghari, who has been working with PPS for over 30 years.

“They’re held without trial, without anything,” he said.

Abdullah Al-Zaghari, with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners Society rights group, says there has been a 100% increase in the number of Palestinians detained by Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.Rebecca Rosman/The World

Israeli officials maintain the arrests are in large part tied to curbing an increase in, quote, “suspected terrorist activity” since the Oct. 7 attacks in which Hamas militants took more than 200 hostages into Gaza and during which around 1,200 people were killed in Israel.

But Al-Zaghari said the Israeli government is motivated by something else.  

“[Israel] has a mentality of revenge against what happened in Gaza in the beginning of the war,” he said.

Some analysts have suggested that Israel is arresting so many people so it has thousands of less threatening prisoners to exchange in a swap with Hamas in an eventual ceasefire. 

Israel has reason to be cautious. In 2011, Israel handed over more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one hostage being held by Hamas — an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit. One of those handed over back to Hamas in the exchange was Yahya Sinwar, who would go on to become the architect of the Oct. 7 attacks.

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, chairs a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, April 13, 2022.Adel Hana/AP/File

But Al-Zaghari insists that still doesn’t justify the number of what he calls arbitrary arrests. He also said recently released detainees from the West Bank and Gaza have testified that they’ve been beaten, deprived of food and water and forced to sit in overcrowded cells with no electricity. 

Earlier this month, the Israeli military released a statement saying it was investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees and would share details in a forthcoming report.

As more prisoners are arrested, anger has been growing across the West Bank, while morale about the possibility of their release has gone down.

Just a few dozen people showed up to a weekly rally in support of Palestinian prisoners being held in central Ramallah.

A weekly gathering is held in central Ramallah in support of Palestinians sitting in Israeli jails. Some 9,300 Palestinians in the occupied territories have been arrested, largely for security reasons, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.Rebecca Rosman/The World

Some people that watched from the sidelines in nearby shops told The World they were fed up with the current Palestinian Authority government and see the protests as ineffective. Others said they feared joining these rallies could lead to their arrests.

But 57-year-old Mukbel Barghouti said he’s been coming to these protests every week, despite the low turnout.

Mukbel Barghouti, whose son has been in administrative detention for six months, says he’s hopeful there will soon be a large prisoner swap as part of a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.Rebecca Rosman/The World

He said his son has been under administrative detention for six months, and he has no idea what his condition is — he hasn’t been allowed to visit him.

Then there’s Mukbel’s brother, Marwan Barghouti, who is perhaps the most famous Palestinian sitting in an Israeli jail.

Thirty years ago, Marwan Barghouti was poised to succeed Yasser Arafat as the new head of the Palestinian Authority. But that was scrapped when he was arrested in the early 2000s on terrorism charges. 

Senior Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti appears at Jerusalem’s court, Jan. 25, 2012. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that the first presidential and parliamentary elections since 2006 will be held later in 2021. The voting is seen as a key step in mending a rift between Abbas’ Fatah party that rules the West Bank and the Islamic militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip. (Bernat Armangue/AP/File)

His brother Mukbel believes that now — more than ever — is actually a moment of hope for Marwan and the thousands of other Palestinian prisoners living in Israeli jails.

“I want them to know that their freedom is very close,” Barghouti said.

He — and many others — believe that their release could be made under a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas in exchange for the remaining hostages being held in Gaza.

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