During a busy week, the IDF West Bank prosecutors and courts handle around 50 or more newly arrested Palestinians’ remand hearings.
So what happens to the 240 Palestinians arrested in a mere matter of days since the kidnapping crisis began? The law and the IDF’s policy is to get most newly arrested Palestinians in front of a judge within 24 to 96 hours.
How do the prosecution and court systems handle such an enormous influx without violating those time frames? Put differently, are there enough prosecutors and judges to handle the mass arrestees? Also, what happens to those newly rearrested Palestinians who had been serving life sentences, but who were pardoned and released in the Gilad Schalit deal under condition that they never return to terrorism? First, nearly all of the arrestees, being Palestinians and not Israeli-Arabs, will be handled by the IDF West Bank prosecutor and not by the civilian courts.
Normally, there might only be around one dozen IDF prosecutors in each West Bank military court. Of these, usually only a few prosecutors are assigned to deal with pretrial remand hearings a couple of days each week.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that at least for the time being, the IDF will not be bringing in extra judges or prosecutors from its other units to handle the expected influx of suspects.
This is no easy feat, as in the West Bank even adults accused of security-related crimes generally get a remand hearing in court within 96 hours of arrest. Those not accused of security offenses usually get a remand hearing within 48 hours, and some minors within 24 hours.
In the short-term, this means that the small number of IDF West Bank prosecutors and judges will be working much longer hours.
It is also likely that other, less pressing cases relating to illegal border crossings, theft and even minor stone throwing may get delayed.
But if the operation lasts for a long time and continually large numbers of Hamas members are arrested, reassigning prosecutors from outside units could be inevitable.
In past crises, such as the second intifada, the Home Front Command even ordered changes to detention policies, pushing the number of days until a first remand hearing to eight days, with extensions being routine.
At this stage, no such changes are being considered, with the IDF having worked hard in recent years to shorten the detention periods.
Besides the above, some of the 240 arrestees may fit into special categories. First of all, many of them may be released after a short time period if no intelligence is gained. Others may fall into extraordinary loopholes, where the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogations unit can, with no changes to the law, extend detention.
Then there are the approximately 50 Hamas prisoners pardoned and released in the Schalit deal. They will be brought before a specially constituted judicial committee that has the authority to return them to jail if IDF prosecutors prove in a special proceeding that they have committed an offense.
If the suspects did not commit an offense, but otherwise violated the conditions of their release, the committee could still potentially return them to jail for part of their sentence.
Defense lawyers could question how the IDF suddenly obtained evidence on all of the 240 suspects at the same time in an attempt to attack the arrest as collective punishment.
While the specific timing of the mass arrests was certainly an attempt to deter Hamas and other would-be kidnappers, the IDF could have already had evidence against individuals, but waited for an opportune moment for a broader sting operation.