Arab Israeli protesters hold a Palestinian flag during a protest in the northern Arab Israeli village of Arara.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel voiced alarm on Monday that five Israeli citizens are currently being held in administrative detention without trial, terming this an increase over recent years, a major infringement on citizens’ rights and a blow to democracy.
The five are all Arab, and Arab MKs see their detentions as signaling a new policy of using the practice more widely against Arab citizens. However, defenders of the detentions say the number is not disproportionate given what they see as heightened security challenges including last month’s attack at the Temple Mount by three Arab citizens that killed two policemen.
ACRI and other rights groups view administrative detentions, used widely in the West Bank but traditionally sparingly among Israeli citizens, as constituting a denial of due process of law. Those detained and their lawyers are not allowed to see the evidence against them or know the reason for the detention during the hearing in which the judge reviews the defense minister’s detention order.
The rights groups argue that they violate the principle that imprisonment should be implemented only after an offense has been proven, but the security services say they are necessary to prevent future offenses. The detention orders, based on emergency regulations going back to the British mandate, are for up to six months, though they can be renewed.
“We see this as unprecedented and very alarming,” said ACRI legal counsel Dan Yakir. “It’s alarming because administrative detention, if at all justified, should be restricted only to emergency situations, and used in a very limited manner. Although in the West Bank it is clearly being used and abused regularly, it was so rare in Israel itself.
But now it seems there is a relaxation of the standards within Israel as well.
“It is much easier to issue an administrative detention order nowadays,” he said. “It is a major infringement of the basic right to liberty, without due process or proof of offense, only relying on an assessment of the security services that the detainee poses a future danger to the security of the state.”
The Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to respond to requests for comment. A Justice Ministry official said there is a ban on publication of the names of the five detainees.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) says keeping the evidence classified from the detainee’s lawyer is necessary to protect intelligence sources.
Four of the detainees are from Wadi Ara and one from Nazareth, according to Omar Khamaisi, a lawyer with the Nazareth based al-Mizan rights group. In the most recent case, a 22-year-old was arrested July 30 and transferred to Shin Bet custody. Three other Arab citizens were arrested July 23. Two of them had six-month detentions approved in Haifa District Court two weeks ago, and a third had his detention period shortened by the judge from six months to two months.
Khamaisi said of the five detainees: “They are not affiliated with any group. They are not people from the Islamic Movement.
"Each is an individual, alone. It seems that the level of freedom of expression is being reduced and people are being arrested for their thoughts.”
Likud MK Anat Berko, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, backed the detentions.
“It is unprecedented that Israeli citizens travel to join Islamic State,” she said. “It is unprecedented that Israeli citizens from Umm el-Fahm murder police on the Temple Mount, and it is unprecedented that there is an Islamic Movement headed by Raed Salah that engages in incitement that leads to murder.
"In my view, five cases of administrative detention is not yet a threat to democracy. It shows the authorities are acting with considerable caution in the face of the challenge.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) took a different view.
“This is the first time we have five young men from our community under administrative detention,” he said. “This is unprecedented in the relationship of the authorities to our community. It seems someone is trying to take advantage of the political atmosphere after the al-Aksa [attack]. If this becomes the new tool in dealing with the Arab community then that’s a dangerous deterioration in Israeli policies. A state identifying itself as a democracy cannot really adopt such a tool in dealing with its own citizens.”