Meir Ettinger attends a remand hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Administrative detention is a drastic measure whereby the state arrests and detains individuals using special court proceedings instead of a standard criminal trial. Israel, as well as a short list of other countries, resort to administrative detention as a means to combat terrorism.
In Israel, the administrative detention of Jews and Palestinians is different by any measure, including length of detention, and number of detainees.
At the recent high, there were three Jewish detainees: Meir Ettinger, Evyatar Slonim and Mordechai Meir. With Ettinger’s pending release at the end of his 10-month term in two weeks, there will be zero.
By contrast, there are currently some 700 Palestinian detainees.
The difference in numbers was most extreme during the 1988-1990 years of the first intifada, when as many as 10,000 Palestinians were detained. Before the recent detention of the three Jewish detainees, the last detention – in 2010 – reportedly was Efraim Chanatzis.
Supporters of the far-right activists have arguments about why those detentions should never have happened and were too long.
The most disturbing issue they raise is that a few weeks ago Ettinger was considered too dangerous to be granted a temporary leave from prison to attend his son’s circumcision ceremony. In contrast, on Tuesday it was announced that, almost magically, the danger he presents has evaporated and that he can now be released onc June 1.
Right or wrong, he was held in administrative detention for 10 months.
In 2013, when the High Court of Justice ordered the extension of the detention of a Palestinian beyond three years, B’Tselem said that there were at least eight other Palestinian detainees being held for close to three years.
In other words, not all Palestinians are detained longer than Jews, but many are.
Ettinger’s release will likely end the dalliance between Right and Left human rights organizations which united, however briefly, against all administrative detentions when the three aforementioned Jews were first detained.
Why is there a difference? The Palestinian side will likely say the difference proves discrimination against Palestinians, plain and simple.
Those Israelis defending the legal practice will likely note that at the end of the day, there are only two indictments pending currently for acts of deadly Jewish terrorism, and far more for acts of deadly Palestinian terrorism.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked noted this distinction when interviewed recently by The Jerusalem Post, explaining why the state routinely demolishes Palestinian terrorists’ homes, but never Jewish terrorists’ homes. Shaked explained the much wider need to deter Palestinian terrorism justified applying the law differently. But she did not discount demolishing homes of Jewish terrorists if Jewish terrorism were to became more widespread.
Government officials would also likely say that it is easier to keep tabs on Jewish terrorists when they are released than it is to monitor released Palestinian terrorists, who may go to ground in the West Bank.
Another difference is far more practical – politics.
While Ettinger has very few followers, in broader terms a large segment of Israeli society on both the Right and the Left are uncomfortable with Jews being held in administrative detention.
They worry they may be next. This grassroots antipathy creates domestic political pressure for the speedy release of Israeli detainees which is much stronger than any international pressure to release Palestinians – even if the average Israeli initially supported the detention of Right-wing extremists.
State Attorney Shai Nitzan reportedly blocked an attempt by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) to administratively detain Ettinger in early 2015. This shows that his later approval of Ettinger’s detention probably came with more caveats than come with detaining a Palestinian, which is more in the bailiwick of Chief IDF West Bank Prosecutor Lt.-Col. Maurice Hirsch.
In the final analysis, how one answers the ‘why’ of the disparate application of administrative detention for Jews and Palestinians depends on one’s political outlook. But the fact that there is a difference is undeniable.