There is little secrecy left regarding "secret" jail facility 1391, but the state insists that the precise location of the prison remain classified, that those incarcerated within its walls not be told where they are, and that the families of the prisoners and the International Red Cross be barred from visiting it, the High Court learned earlier this week.
The hearing was held before Justices Dorit Beinisch, Esther Hayut and Miriam Naor.
During the hearing, the petitioners charged that international opinion was strongly against the use of secret jails. Beinisch told them: "Israel's record [regarding the incarceration of security prisoners] is better than that of other countries in the world."
Although the court appeared to accept the army's behind-closed-doors explanations of why the location of the jail had to remain classified, and access to it forbidden, it was troubled by the violation of the human rights of the detainees and suggested steps to minimize the use of the jail.
It gave the state two weeks to consider its proposals, which also remained classified.
The petition calling for an end to all the secret aspects of the facility was submitted by the human rights organization Hamoked in the Defense of the Individual and by Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On. Hamoked discovered the existence of the jail by chance, when it filed habeas corpus petitions in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of two Palestinians who had been arrested by the IDF.
During the court hearings that followed, it became apparent that the facility was used primarily to hold suspected terrorists from foreign countries. However, for a short period of time, the jail housed Palestinian suspects arrested after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and that led to its discovery.
Attorneys for the petitioners, Yossi Wolfson and Leah Tzemel, argued that there was no Israeli law permitting the existence of a secret jail and that failure to tell prisoners where they were was a violation of their most basic human rights. They also warned that so long as the exact location of the jail was secret, and neither family members nor International Red Cross representatives could visit them there (they are allowed to visit the prisoners at another facility), the prisoners were more likely to suffer abuse and torture.
The state's representative, attorney Shai Nitzan, said the authorities would not hide the fact that a given prisoner was held in the facility, the prison conditions met the official standards and were the same as in other prisons, and everyone knew the prison was located in northern Israel. Furthermore, he said, no prisoner had been held in the facility for more than a year.
If that's the case, the judges demanded to know, why not drop the last elements of secrecy.
"I suggest explaining this to you behind closed doors," replied Nitzan.
The justices agreed and cleared the court. After hearing the explanation, the public hearing resumed.
Beinisch said she had asked the state to further minimize the use of the secret facility.
The case will resume after the court receives the state's reply and the petitioners' response.