(photo credit: INIMAGE)
An expanded seven-justice panel of the High Court of Justice late Tuesday rejected a petition to strike down a ban on higher education for security prisoners.
The petitioners, a group of Palestinian security prisoners, had argued that refusing them access to higher education – which they’d had up until 2011 – was discriminatory, since non-security prisoners were still allowed to pursue such studies.
But the justices were split on the reason for upholding the ban.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor led the camp of justices pressing the state to reconsider the prohibition, ruling that a person’s status as a security prisoner did not in itself justify the ban; rather, she said, a security-based rationale was necessary.
Former supreme court president Asher D. Grunis led the opposing camp, arguing that simply being a security prisoner was a sufficient reason for one to receive different treatment than other prisoners did, and that any rights security prisoners previously had could be taken away without considerations for individual prisoners.
In the summer of 2011, prior to the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in light of Schalit’s whereabouts being kept secret, his lack of visitation rights and his presumably harsh detention conditions, Palestinian prisoners convicted of security-related offenses would no longer be allowed to study for college degrees while in confinement.
Netanyahu’s logic was that these prisoners should not have such unusual privileges while Schalit was being mistreated by his Hamas captors.
Even after Schalit’s release, however, the ban on college studies continued.
Naor – who authored the main opinion Tuesday – and her supporting justices agreed with Grunis on the ultimate rejection of the position, but justified it on the narrow grounds that the state had provided classified information showing that terror groups had a connection to financing the higher-education studies.
Absent that connection, said Naor – who implied that the ban was too sweeping and affected security prisoners to whom the classified information did not apply – she would strike down the prohibition as arbitrary discrimination.
According to Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which jointly represents the petitioners along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, there were 270 prisoners taking correspondence courses at the Open University in 2010, of whom only 60 were classified as criminal (as opposed to security) prisoners.
Criminal prisoners are still allowed to take such courses.
Tuesday’s ruling upheld a December 24, 2012, ruling in which a three-justice High Court panel rejected the three prisoners’ petitions to continue their studies at the Open University.
The petitioners had stressed that “leaving the ruling intact could significantly erode basic legal principles relating to prisoners,” including that “human rights are not abandoned at the prison gates” and that violating “a prisoner’s rights is only allowed if it is necessary to maintain public order or prison security.”