Analysis: When Jews get administrative detention

The district court ruling affirming Meir Ettinger’s detention until at least February did little to clarify the confusing legal melee.

September 22, 2015 03:24
4 minute read.
Meir Ettinger

Meir Ettinger attends a remand hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth.. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

When Jews like Meir Ettinger and two others are put in administrative detention, the normal divisions between the sides debating the controversial practice get tossed out the window.

Suddenly, some on the Right who support administrative detention of Palestinian suspected terrorists, and some on the Left who oppose that detention, switch sides or at least start making arguments they do not usually make.

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Currently, some on the Right are slamming the government for illegally abusing the rights of Ettinger and others by denying them the presumption of innocent until proven guilty and denying them a trial where they could challenge the allegations against them (and a few like Itamar Ben Gvir, Ettinger’s lawyer, have advocated scrapping detention even for Palestinians.) Some on the Left are happy they have been detained and some are mad that the government has not publicly solved the Duma arson attack on Palestinians (departing from that, notably the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has opposed the detention.) Many got even angrier when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he knew who perpetrated the Duma attack, but could not bring them to trial, while detaining Ettinger and the others.

Sunday’s Lod District Court affirming of Ettinger’s detention until at least February 2016 did little to clarify the confusing melee.

Overall, the question was whether allowing Ettinger to roam freely constitutes a danger to state security, even though no criminal case is being brought against him.

The court validated or did not reject several of Ettinger’s attacks on his administrative detention.

It agreed that the state violated Ettinger’s right to a chance to refute the allegations against him prior to his detention.

Next, the judge threw out several items of secret evidence presented by “Amitai” (a fictional name for a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agent to cover his real identity) regarding Ettinger having allegedly violated prior IDF orders against him meeting with certain other activists.

The court wrote that the police failed to properly investigate a July 28, 2015 incident.

Ettinger claimed that investigators did not bother to question the people who he told the police he was with (and was allowed to be with) – meaning they did not bother to vet his alibi for not being with the other people (whom he was not allowed to be with) that the Shin Bet accused him of being with.

Curiously, the court neither affirmed nor rejected a claim by Ettinger that in 2014 an interrogator punched him in the chest. (The Shin Bet did not respond to inquiries.) But then the court shifted gears.

A lot centered on the November 23, 2014 arson attack on a residence in the Hirbat Abu Falah village.

The Shin Bet believed Ettinger was involved based on his being nearby and various secret evidentiary items that appeared to relate to various technological means of spying, though the court did not give clear specifics.

Ettinger noted that none of the video footage of the incident placed him at the scene and claimed he was at Givat Ronen with his wife, slamming investigators for failing to question his wife to review his alibi.

But the court appeared to accept Amitai’s arguments, either on the basis of Givat Ronen still being relatively close to the site of the arson or based on the secret evidence.

Further, the court in this case disregarded Ettinger’s attack on the lack of investigating his alibi, citing his refusal to cooperate with investigators and suggesting he had not mentioned his wife to them when questioned.

Maybe the other decisive issue was whether his writings about overthrowing the secular democratic state and connection to others who set out to achieve that starting in September 2013 were protected by free speech or constituted dangerous and specific incitement to violence.

Ettinger could say that many groups, even some in the government, would prefer a theocratic state to the current secular one.

Yet, the court took the latter view, tying him to writings that describe tactics for burnings cars and mosques and to writings pressing for violence against Palestinians – partially it appears based on human spying, though again the court did not clearly define the source.

The court itself stated that in administrative detention cases, it is supposed to be the voice of the detainee since the detainee’s lawyer does not have the chance to attack the veracity of the secret evidence presented against him.

But as Palestinians often ask about the hundreds of administrative detentions against them, can the court really speak up for the detainee when the court lacks the benefit of hearing the detainee’s lawyer attack the Shin Bet’s evidence? Back to the bigger picture, many continue to ask from both sides if the detentions are politically motivated.

Despite public demands and intense pressure that the defense establishment bring the perpetrators of the Duma attack to trial, no criminal charges have yet been leveled against anyone for the deadly arson attack.

That doubt would make detaining more general violators with writings that many despise appear to be the government seeking cover for not solving the crime, by changing the subject with the detentions.

At the same time, until more time passes, all scenarios are still open.

These could theoretically include that Ettinger and the others are Duma suspects, but the evidence is not enough for a conviction or is partially based on sources that cannot be revealed without blowing the sources.

Alternatively, Ya’alon may know that others perpetrated the Duma attack, but the Shin Bet has not arrested them yet in order to “net” more of those involved and detaining the three is a separate measure only directed at stopping their wider movement in inciting violence.

Either way, the court’s affirmation of Ettinger’s detention and the continued lack of indictments relating to the Duma attack satisfied very few.

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