Negotiations around the release of Israeli women and children held hostage in Gaza have centered on an exchange for Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli prisons. The size of that group has grown quickly during the six weeks of war and upheaval since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group.
The group, Addameer, says that about 200 boys, most of them teenagers, were in Israeli detention as of this week, along with about 75 women and five teenage girls. Before Oct. 7, about 150 boys and 30 women and girls were in Israeli prisons, it said, and since then, many other detentions have occurred, as well as many releases.
Addameer said that it compiled the figures using data from the Israel Prison Service, which administers the country’s jails, and information from the families of detained people.
Early Wednesday, the Israeli government and Hamas announced they would uphold a four-day cease-fire in Gaza to allow for the release of 50 hostages captured during Hamas’s assault last month on Israel and 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Many of the most recent arrests of Palestinians came during raids across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where protests and violence have surged, including attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers. Israel has said that the arrests are part of a counterterror operation against Hamas in the West Bank.
There are also about 700 people missing from Gaza who are believed to be in Israeli prisons, but information on their whereabouts is murky, said Tala Nasir, a spokeswoman for Addameer. It was not clear how many of those people, if any, were women or minors. The Israeli military has said that it has apprehended 300 people in Gaza during the ground invasion that it claimed were connected to armed Palestinian groups, and that they “were brought into Israeli territory for further interrogations.”
Of the roughly 240 Israeli hostages taken to Gaza by Hamas and other armed groups, 33 are minors, the youngest of whom is 9 months old, according to the Israeli government. At least 62 are women, according to an organization formed by the hostages’ families. Four of the women being held hostage are Israeli soldiers, according to interviews with their family members and information gathered by a forum of the hostages’ families.
As of this week, the total number of what Addameer calls Palestinian political prisoners in Israel — including people from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel — was 7,000, up from about 5,000 before Oct. 7, according to Addameer. That includes more than 2,000 people held in “administrative detention,” meaning they are being held indefinitely without charges, it said.
Ms. Nasir said that her group defines that category as Palestinians arrested for offenses that are related to political activity and free speech rather than crimes like drugs or violence. She added that Addameer had received many reports in recent weeks of people arrested on charges of incitement for their social media posts in Israel and the West Bank. Earlier this month, the Knesset passed an amendment to a counterterrorism law that criminalized the “consumption of terrorist materials.”
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said that it was monitoring 121 cases of arrests and detentions linked to social media posts, some which “merely contained expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, or even verses shared from the Quran.”
Rights groups have long warned that Palestinian detainees are held without due process and face abuse and even torture. Military Court Watch, a nonprofit legal group, said last year that of the 100 Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces that it had interviewed, 74 percent reported physical abuse, and 42 percent said they were put in solitary confinement.
The women in Israeli detention include Ahed Tamimi, 22, a high-profile figure in the West Bank who was sentenced to prison in 2018 for slapping an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials accused her of her posting hate speech online; her family said the post was not hers.
Six Palestinian detainees who were held without charges have died in Israeli prisons in recent weeks, according to Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s news agency. One of them, Omar Daraghmeh, was a senior member of Hamas, the militant group said when his death was announced.
Hiba Yazbek, Johnatan Reiss and Talya Minsberg contributed reporting.