Jamal Niser, a U.S. citizen, was 74 years old the first time the Israeli military detained him. The Israeli army, which rules over the occupied Palestinian territories, where Niser lives in retirement with his wife, threw him in prison in 2021 for four months without charge or trial—a practice it refers to as "administrative detention." The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Jamal's detention was "arbitrary," citing among other reasons that Israel denied him due process or any way to defend himself through the Israeli army's reliance on secret evidence to detain him.
When Jamal got out of prison in October 2021, days before his 75th birthday, he attempted to return to the United States to be with his children, but the Israeli army denied him permission to leave the occupied territory without giving any reason. With the intervention of then-Congressman Tim Ryan of Jamal's home state of Ohio, Israeli authorities gave the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem written assurances that they would allow him to depart for the U.S. Even with that letter in hand, however, the Israeli military denied him permission to leave a second time in October 2021.
Less than a year later, on August 24, 2022, the Israeli military again raided Jamal's home in the Ramallah-area city of al-Bireh in the middle of the night, this time with an embedded television news crew, breaking down the front door of his home and detaining him. Four days later, an Israeli military intelligence officer, Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg (a colonel at the time), signed another four-month administrative detention order against him, which an Israeli military court judge, Maj. (Res) Maor Even-Khen, reviewed and approved three days later. Neither Jamal nor his attorney were allowed to view the alleged evidence against him, including a summary of his interrogation—an absurdity considering it is ostensibly a document outlining what Jamal himself told an Israeli intelligence officer.
Court documents support Niser's family's belief that his detention is related to his support for a slate of independent candidates in scheduled Palestinian elections that never took place, although other documentation from Israeli military courts allege an unspecified financial element to his persecution in addition to unspecified alleged ties to an "illegal organization."
Niser's current administrative detention order is set to expire on April 22, 2023. It is not known whether Israeli military authorities intend to extend his detention by another four months, nor is it known whether they will allow him to return to his family in the United States if and when he is released. On March 30, 2023, American consular officials visited Niser in Israel's Ofer Military Prison in the occupied West Bank, and communicated to his family that he is in need of ocular surgery that he would prefer to undergo in Ohio, where he lived for 40 years and where his family remains.
Niser's continued detention is a violation of international human rights laws prohibiting arbitrary, indefinite imprisonment without charge, and could amount to a war crime under Article 8(2)(a)(vi) of the Rome Statute, which prohibits "[w]ilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial." Furthermore, the Secretary of State should designate Niser as wrongfully detained under the "Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act," demand that Israel immediately release Niser or charge him with a crime in a criminal proceeding. The President should also order sanctions against the Israeli officials responsible for his continued detention, as permitted by the law.
DAWN researchers interviewed sources close to Jamal Niser, including family members and legal representatives, reviewed court transcripts and rulings, Israeli military orders relating to the case, correspondence with American and Israeli authorities, and other documents and information from published and unpublished sources that we have determined to be credible and reliable. Interviews include the following:
- Source A: DAWN researchers interviewed Sam Bahour, Niser's cousin, on February 24, 2023, via an online application.
- Source B: DAWN researchers interviewed Lameese Aghbar, Niser's daughter, on March 17, 2023, via an online application.
- Source C: DAWN researchers interviewed Source C, a person familiar with al- Niser's legal proceedings, on February 7, 2023, via an online application.
Documentation: DAWN reviewed the two administrative detention orders issued against Mr. Niser, court documents from five hearings and rulings in Israeli military courts, video documentation of Niser's detention, civil society submissions to and a published opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, correspondence with Congressional offices, correspondence with the Israeli embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Israel, and data and information obtained by Israeli newspaper Haaretz and human rights organizations Addameer and HaMoked.
Personal & Professional Background
Jamal Afif Suleiman Niser was born in British Mandate Palestine in 1946. In 1967, he emigrated to the United States to join his brothers in Youngstown, Ohio, where he began studying for his Bachelor's degree in political science. Niser returned to Palestine, at that point militarily occupied by Israel, after he graduated from Youngstown State University in 1971. After marrying his now-wife, Niser returned to Ohio in 1972 to start a family.
In Ohio, where his brothers had already established themselves, Niser had three children and became a successful businessman, owning several grocery stores and gas stations, as well as investing in and developing real estate. In 1995, at the height of the Oslo Accords when Israel allowed the Palestinian Liberation Organization and many other exiled Palestinians to return, Niser attempted to travel to the occupied West Bank for the first time in nearly a quarter century. The Israeli military did not allow him to enter the occupied territory but eventually gave him permission the following year in 1996, when it granted him residency status. He traveled back and forth between Ohio and his home in Al Bireh, near the West Bank city of Ramallah for 15 years without any trouble.
In 2011, however, Niser and his wife were on their way to join their children for a vacation in Italy when the Israeli military denied him permission to leave the occupied Palestinian territory. The Israeli military placed a five-year travel ban on Niser, without providing him any reason or evidence he could refute. Once the travel ban expired, he returned to his home and children in Ohio. "He came out to Ohio, did his taxes, hung out with the family, and then he went back to the West Bank," Niser's daughter, Lameese told DAWN in an interview. "This time we were going to Spain, and he was not allowed out and has not been allowed out for seven some years."
Four years later, in June 2021, Israeli troops raided the then-74-year-old Niser's home in Al Bireh and placed him in administrative detention for four months. They did not charge him with a crime or give him an opportunity to defend himself. The only evidence his attorney was allowed to see was a summary of an intelligence report containing only three sentences vaguely accusing him of membership in an organization outlawed under Israeli law. When they released him in October 2021, Niser and his family sought the help of their congressperson, at the time Tim Ryan, who, through the State Department, received assurances from the Israeli government that they would allow him to return to the United States. Despite those assurances, the Israeli military would not let him return to Ohio. Later that year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion that Niser's arrest and imprisonment constituted "arbitrary detention."
In August 2022, Israeli troops again raided the Niser home in the middle of the night, breaking down the front door to detain the then-75 year old. They did not present him with an arrest warrant or detention order or charge him with a crime. Several days later, an Israeli intelligence officer signed yet another four-month administrative detention order with the same uncorroborated accusations, no evidence, and no opportunity to defend himself. Citing his "advanced age," a military court judge, Maj. (Res) Maor Even Khen, reduced the length of the detention order to two months but an appeals court judge, Lt.-Col. (Res.) Eyal Nun, reversed that decision and reinstated the full four month order. In December 2022, the Israeli military commander, Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, issued a third administrative detention order, extending Niser's detention by another four months, which is set to expire on April 22, 2023.
Niser has offered to leave the West Bank in lieu of detention, but Israeli authorities have refused to allow him to travel on numerous occasions. According to his daughter Lameese, during his first detention in 2021, Israeli officials told Niser he could leave for the United States only if he gave up his West Bank residency, which would mean he could never return. He refused.
Time & Circumstance of Arrest
June 9, 2021
Dozens of Israeli soldiers raided the Niser home in Al Bireh, a municipality abutting Ramalah, in an area of the occupied West Bank that is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. The soldiers arrived at 4 a.m. on June 9, 2021, took Niser away, but did not search his home. They did not tell his family where they were taking him and did not provide any information about his whereabouts for two days. Four days after his detention, an Israeli military intelligence officer, Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg (a colonel at the time), signed a four-month administrative detention order.
August 24, 2022
Dozens of Israeli soldiers from the 101st Paratroopers Battalion raided the Niser family home in Al Bireh at 4 a.m. The soldiers, who were accompanied by an embedded reporter and camera crew from Israel's Channel 12 News, broke down the front door of the house and arrested al- Niser—again, not conducting even a basic search of the home. The soldiers, with assault rifles raised, allowed al- Niser to dress himself and bring his medication before taking him away.
"There were about 25 soldiers who arrived to arrest a 75-year-old man sleeping upstairs with his wife. They go upstairs, they break down the door. My mom comes downstairs. They tell her to keep the lights off. She said, 'we can't see because we have like 13 stairs. We need to go up.' They go up. My dad gets to put his clothes on and take his medication again," Lameese, Niser's daughter recalled in an interview with DAWN. "I have a video of him and his blue shirt and black pants. He's always dressed up."
Video of the arrest raid, including footage of soldiers leading Niser out of his home, was broadcast on primetime news in Israel on the evening of August 24, 2022, in which the reporter, Channel 12 News' Nir Dvori, makes unsourced and unsubstantiated claims that the raid is targeting senior PFLP leaders.
Niser's wife noticed earlier in the night that all the lights had been turned off in the Palestinian police station next door to their home, which she said never happens, and which made them think something was wrong. In the Channel 12 News segment documenting Niser's arrest, the commanding officer of the 101st Battalion, Lt.-Col. Yoav Spector, explains how they had coordinated the raid with the Palestinian police, and had instructed them to stay out of sight in order to prevent any friction with the invading Israeli army unit.
Four days after Niser's arrest, on August 28, 2022, an Israeli intelligence officer, Col. Nathaniel Kola, signed a new, four-month administrative detention order.
The Israeli military, which occupies the Palestinian territories and subjects Palestinian civilians to a separate penal code based on military orders, has never charged Jamal Niser with a crime. Under the practice of administrative detention, it can imprison Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely, with orders that the military commander can renew every four to six months. The judge must review and authorize the orders, but generally do not tell the detainee or their attorney of any specific allegations against them nor do they give them access to any evidence which they might be able to use to to refute or to launch even the most basic legal defense.
The Israeli military prosecution revealed the unsubstantiated allegations against Jamal Niser in the vaguest and often contradictory terms, ranging from participation in Palestinian elections to financial misconduct to membership in an illegal organization. The military prosecution and court did not give Mr. Niser or his attorneys access to any evidence, any information he would need to defend himself against the vague allegations, or any specifics about any crimes of which he is accused, according to court documents reviewed by DAWN.
Article 285 of Israel Defense Forces Military Order 1651 allows for the administrative detention of Palestinians in the occupied territories. The military commander, in the case of the West Bank the OC Central Command (military commander of the occupied West Bank), is authorized to sign administrative detention orders but often delegates that authority to an intelligence officer under their command. An administrative detainee must be brought before a military court within eight days for judicial review and approval. According to data the Israeli military provided to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, military judges approved 99 percent of administrative detention orders in 2022.
Administrative detention is permitted under the Fourth Geneva Convention (articles 42, 78) only as an exceptional measure when an individual is deemed to present a real security threat in the present or future, and even then only when "absolutely necessary" and criminal charges are not possible. The political nature of administrative detention suggests it is used beyond absolute necessity, as admitted by Israeli officials in the past and evidenced by the fact that the number of Palestinians in administrative detention reached a 20-year high in 2022.
In addition, as numerous human rights organizations and UN bodies have concluded, it is no longer appropriate for Israel to rely on the provisions of the Geneva Conventions to justify its administrative detention policy. The Geneva Conventions govern what are meant to be temporary military occupations but the Israeli occupation has become a permanent situation, and its exceptional emergency provisions are no longer appropriate for the situation in the OPT. International human rights law strictly prohibits indefinite administrative detention and arbitrary detention without charge based on secret evidence. The denial of due process and a fair trial is also a war crime in the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute.
Trial and Legal Proceedings
The following information about Niser's legal proceedings is primarily based on military court transcripts and rulings that DAWN obtained and reviewed. To protect our sources, we are not publishing the documents.
- June 13, 2021
Israeli Intelligence Officer in the Central Command of the IDF, Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg (a colonel at the time), signs a four-month administrative detention order against Niser, four days after his initial detention. The length of the detention, according to the order, is from June 13, 2021 to October 8, 2011.
- June 17, 2021
Due to COVID restrictions at the time, and despite the fact that Israeli forces were holding him in a prison in the same West Bank compound as where the military court is located, Niser is not brought to court for his hearing to review his administrative detention order but is able to participate from the prison via video link, according to court documents.
In asking the court to approve the administrative detention order, the prosecutors, IDF Legal Officer Shir Ziv and Lt. Abdel Falah, state that the military has no intention of detaining Niser beyond the four-month order, which they say was based on secret evidence. Asked by Niser's defense attorney whether Israeli authorities had notified the American embassy about his detention, the prosecution says, "there is no indication that happened."
Given a chance to speak, Niser tells the judge about his health problems, asks how someone of his age and physical condition could pose a threat, and says that all he wants is to return to his family and businesses in the United States.
The judge, Lt.-Col. (Res.) Shimon Ashual, adjourns the hearing in order to view the intelligence file on Niser in camera, after which he reconvenes and issues his ruling upholding the administrative detention order in full. In his ruling, Lt.-Col. Ashual writes, in language that appears to largely have been copy/pasted from other administrative detention hearings, that the decision to imprison Niser without charge or trial was made exclusively on security grounds and that the 74 year old would pose a danger to the security of the area if they were to release him. The judge further writes that transferring the case to a criminal proceeding, in which Niser would have access to the evidence against him, would not be effective in countering the alleged danger the septuagenarian poses.
- June 23, 2021
Niser's attorney, Mohammad Hassan, files an appeal with the IDF's Military Court of Appeals, asking it to cancel the judicial order approving Niser's administrative detention.
- July 28, 2021
Military Appellate Judge Col. (Res.) Eran Laufman rejects the appeal against Niser's administrative detention order. Col. Laufman writes in his judgment, drawing on the classified material presented to the court in camera, that the administrative detention order is intended to stop Niser from further involvement in Palestinian Authority elections.
- October 8, 2021
The Israel Prison Service releases Niser from Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank upon the expiration of his administrative detention order
- October 20, 2021
The chief diplomatic officer in the American Citizen Services section of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem writes in an email to a staffer for Congressman Tim Ryan that "the Government of Israel has notified us that there is no impediment for Mr. Niser to leave the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge." When Niser arrives at the border crossing with that letter in hand, however, Israeli authorities nevertheless prevent him from leaving the West Bank, according to his family.
- November 17, 2021
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopts an opinion concluding that Niser's detention is arbitrary, on the grounds that Israeli military authorities did not inform him of the reason for his arrest, denied him a fair trial, and that his detention was discriminatory. (See "Violations of Rights" section below for more details.)
- June 2, 2022
Congressman Ryan's office writes to Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog bringing the case to his attention, urging the Israeli government to allow Niser to return to the United States, and asking for clarifications about why Israel is preventing him from leaving the occupied West Bank.
- August 28, 2022
Col. Nathaniel Kola, Intelligence Officer in the IDF's Central Command, signs a four-month administrative detention order for Niser, valid from August 28, 2022 until December 23, 2022.
- August 31, 2022
Military prosecutor Lt. Tal Igby asks the court to approve Niser's administrative detention order. Niser's attorney asks the court to cancel or shorten the order, arguing that without being able to see the evidence he is unable to defend his client or refute the allegations against him, noting his client's age and poor health, and pointing out that there are no more planned Palestinian elections with which he could be involved.
Niser addresses the court in English, saying all he wants is to return to his children in the United States and that he doesn't want his wife to have to live alone. He adds that he doesn't understand how he could pose a security threat at his age and with his poor health, noting that the Israeli soldiers who arrested him didn't conduct any search of the house, which suggests they had no interest in collecting evidence against him.
The judge, Maj. (Res) Maor Even-Khen, after viewing the classified materials submitted by the prosecution in camera, approves the administrative detention order but shortens it by two months noting Mr. Niser's "advanced age."
- September 15, 2022
The Israeli military prosecution appeals Maj. Even-Khen's decision to shorten the length of Mr. Niser's administrative detention by two months.
- October 12, 2022
Military Appellate Court Judge Lt.-Col. (Res.) Eyal Nun hears the military prosecution's appeal against the lower court's decision to shorten the length of Niser's administrative detention. Despite the ruling of the same appellate court a year earlier, Lt.-Col. Nun states that Niser's previous detention had nothing to do with Palestinian Authority elections and that both the previous and current detentions had to do with unspecified financial improprieties related to an illegal organization.
Niser addresses the court in English, denying any wrongdoing and asking that the judge release him and allow him to return to his family in the United States.
The judge, Lt.-Col. Nun, orders the military prosecution to check with the Israel Security Agency (ISA, aka the Shin Bet), Israel's domestic intelligence agency, whether it objects to Niser returning to the United States. The prosecutor, Lt. Tal Igby, tells the court that the military intends to extend Niser's administrative detention when it expires at the end of four months.
- October 13, 2022
The judge, Lt.-Col. Nun accepts the appeal and reinstates the full four-month length of Mr. Niser's administrative detention order. Regarding the possibility of returning to the United States, Lt.-Col. Nun writes that it would not be appropriate, and that it is "a relatively rare case, in which the possibility of [Niser] departing for the United States as an alternative to administrative detention would not only fail to reduce the danger he poses but would, under certain circumstances, lead to an increase in that danger." Furthermore, the judge writes that advanced age is not sufficient grounds to shorten an administrative detention order.
December 18, 2022
Col. Nathaniel Kola, Intelligence Officer in the IDF's Central Command, signs a second four-month administrative detention order for Jamal Niser, valid from December 23, 2022 until April 22, 2023.
- December 28, 2022
Military Prosecutor Legal Officer Adir Ohana asks the court to approve the four-month extension of Niser's administrative detention. Military Court Judge Maj. Uriel Dreifus proceeds with the hearing despite the fact that neither Niser nor his attorney are present, according to court documents.
According to Niser's family and sources familiar with the legal proceedings, his attorney was not informed of the hearing ahead of time. Due to the prospect of not having his attorney present and the perceived futility based on previous experience, Niser refuses to attend the hearing in court, joining roughly 100 other Palestinian administrative detainees who have been boycotting Israeli courts since the start of 2022.
The judge, Maj. Dreifus, approves the four-month administrative detention order in full without specifying how Niser poses a threat to security or the allegations against him.
The Israeli military is holding Niserat Ofer Prison, an Israel Prison Service-run facility located at the IDF's Ofer Military Base, which is also the location of the IDF's Ofer Military Court. The facility is in the occupied West Bank, adjacent to the city of Beitunia and near Ramallah.
Mr. Niser has complained in court and to American consular officials on numerous occasions that he is not receiving adequate medical care in prison. He further complained that his cell lacked adequate modern bathroom facilities, which he brought up with American consular officials who attempted to remedy the situation vis-a-vis the Israel Prison Service.
Niser was able to see his wife during his August 31, 2022 hearing at the Ofer Military Court, according to a report sent to his daughter by an American consular official. A consular officer from the United States Embassy in Jerusalem visits him regularly. In the most recent visit, on March 30, 2023, a consular officer reported to Niser's daughter that he requires ocular surgery, which he would like to have done back home in Ohio.
Following the formation of Israel's current far-right government, which resulted in the appointment of radical right-wing politician Itamar Ben-Gvir to the position of national security minister, Ben-Gvir took several measures to deliberately worsen the conditions of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. One such step, from which Mr. Niser told his family he is suffering, is a new restriction limiting prisoners' showers to four minutes.
Violation of Rights
- Arbitrary Detention
The Israeli military has arbitrarily detained Mr. Niser for nearly eight months, plus another four months in a previous detention.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has the mandate to "investigate cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with the international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the international legal instruments accepted by the States concerned." The Working Group has established five categories where a deprivation of liberty is arbitrary under these standards. Category I concludes that a detention is arbitrary when, "it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty," while Category II concludes that a detention is arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercises of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by numerous articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a state party. Category III concludes that a detention is arbitrary when "the total or partial non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned, is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character." Category V concludes a detention is arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination.
In its November 2021 opinion, the Working Group concluded that Niser's detention was arbitrary based on Categories I, III, and V. If, as suggested, Jamal's detention is related to his participation in elections, it would likely be arbitrary under Category II as well.
Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
- The Right to Be Informed of the Reason for Arrest
Article 9(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
- The Right to a Trial Within a Reasonable Time or to Release
Jamal Niser has been in administrative detention, imprisoned without charge or trial, for nearly a cumulative 12 months. He has never been presented with evidence of wrongdoing, has not been charged with a crime, and has not been given an opportunity to defend himself against or refute the allegations against him. By denying Mr. Niser's right to trial, Israeli authorities have violated international law.
Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment.
Likewise, the Principles 37 and 38 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provide similar legal safeguards.
Officials involved in prosecution and detention
The following officials have contributed to the ongoing unlawful detention of Jamal Niser:
Brig.-Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg, formerly Intelligence Officer in the IDF's Central Command, is currently Military Secretary to the President of the State of Israel. On June 13, 2021, she signed an administrative detention order against Niser on behalf of the Israeli military's OC Central Command, the military commander of the occupied West Bank.
Lt.-Col. (Res.) Shimon Ashual is an IDF Military Judge in reserve service for more than 20 years who has heard administrative detention cases for 15 years. As a civilian, he is a divorce and real estate attorney in private practice. He approved the June 2021 administrative detention order for Niser.
Col. (Res.) Eran Laufman is an IDF Military Judge in reserve service. He runs a general services civil law firm in private practice as a civilian. He rejected Niser's July 2021 appeal against his administrative detention order.
Legal Officer Shir Ziv is a prosecutor in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. She represented the prosecution in both of Niser's 2021 administrative detention hearings.
Lt.-Col. Yoav Spector is a Commander of the IDF Paratroopers 101st Battalion. He was the commanding officer in the August 24, 2022 raid in which Mr. Niser was detained, and in which soldiers broke down his front door. He brought a news crew to document Niser's detention, which was later broadcast on prime time Israeli television news.
Col. Nathaniel Kola is an Intelligence Officer in the IDF's Central Command. He signed the August 28, 2022 and December 18, 2022 administrative detention orders for Niser, on behalf of the OC Central Command, the military commander of the occupied West Bank.
Maj. (Res) Maor Even Khen is an IDF Military Court Judge in reserve service and Deputy Head of the Israeli Justice Ministry's Financial Crimes Unit. He approved the August 28, 2022 administrative detention order against Niser while reducing it by two months on humanitarian grounds, which a military appeals court later reinstated to a full four months.
Lt.-Col. (Res.) Eyal Nun is an IDF Military Appellate Court Judge. As a civilian, Nun is an attorney who has served as a legal advisor to local and national Israeli governmental bodies as well as private companies. He accepted the military prosecutor's appeal, reinstating the full length of Niser's August 28, 2022 administrative detention order.
Maj. Uriel Dreifus is a Military Court Judge. He approved Niser's December 23, 2022 administrative detention order in absentia.
Lt. Tal Igby is a Prosecutor in the IDF's Military Advocate General Corps. They represented the military prosecution in both hearings concerning Niser's August 28, 2022 administrative detention order.