In a high-stakes meeting that sparked a heated debate, a Knesset committee
extended on Monday a controversial emergency law on detainee rights – with
unusual limitations, relative to other democracies – until the end of
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee decided,
regarding certain security detainees, to permit extending their detention
without them being present in court, delaying court oversight and delaying
access to a lawyer.
The Knesset approved the second and third readings of the measure by 32 to 9 votes, with one abstention.
All or part of the law was opposed by Labor MK Merav
Michaeli, Yesh Atid MKs Adi Kol and Karin Elharar and Balad MK Jamal
“The Supreme Court annulled some of the law’s sections and the
government is trying to recycle them,” Michaeli said.
“The Shin Bet wants
there to be no limitations, but a legislator’s job is to weigh and preserve the
interests of the state and its citizens.”
Michaeli was referring to a
Supreme Court decision that determined that aspects of the emergency law that
had been part of Israeli law were dropped, but later returned in a reduced state
as temporary emergency laws.
The law was generally supported by committee
head Likud Beytenu MK David Rotem, Labor MK Moshe Mizrachi, Hatnua MK Elazar
Stern and Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Muallem and Orit Struck.
It was also
vigorously supported by the head of the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency’s)
interrogations unit and Deputy Attorney-General Shai Nitzan.
A number of
opposing MKs implied that since the law had been continually extended since
2006, they did not trust when the law enforcement establishment referred to the
law as “temporary,” suggesting that this was merely a tactic.
heated part of the debate revolved around a provision in the law that permits
the extension of a detainee’s detention for up to six days without the
The provision, which has no parallel in Israeli
civil law, requires approval by a Supreme Court judge upon recommendation of the
head of the Shin Bet’s interrogations unit and the attorney-general.
provision also includes the safeguard that the state must appoint a defense
attorney to be present at a hearing to extend the detainee’s detention, even if
the detainee himself is not present.
Kol highlighted the fact that the
Shin Bet representative had said that the provision had not been used in at
least three years, and asked why the provision was necessary if the whole point
of an emergency law is to deal with an imminent and temporary
The Shin Bet representative said in response that “maybe
tomorrow I will need to use this provision, and I won’t be able to save
“This is an emergency provision and I pray that we won’t
need to use it,” he continued, but added that “sometimes a pause in the
interrogation can fatally harm the interrogation.”
Nitzan gave a spirited
defense of the law, saying that “it is the Knesset’s right to vote it down,” but
essentially implying that the committee would then have on its conscience any
terror attacks that the law could have helped prevent.
that “there is manipulation here, as if we just have this provision, we will
save any threat to people’s lives, and that is not true.”
committee meeting, a representative of the Association for Civil Rights in
Israel argued that there were multiple issues with the emergency
First, she said, the law was unnecessary, as there were powerful
other tools at Israel’s disposal to deal with ticking-bomb scenarios, such as
using military law applicable to Palestinians from the West Bank or declaring
individuals to be enemy combatants.
Second, she said, democracies should
be ready to pay some price to balance security with civil rights, arguing that
it should be an overriding interest of the state to avoid even one unjustly
prosecuted person. She did not make any suggestion as to which argument was more
Zahalka went even farther, stating that the entire law was an
example of a “document of violating human rights.”
provision in the law permits the interrogation of a detainee for up to 96 hours
without being brought before a judge to review the detainee’s
Under Israeli civil law, a detainee must be brought before a
judge within 24 hours, or within 48 hours in certain exceptional
The emergency law also permits delaying a detainee’s first meeting
with a lawyer up until 10 days with approval from a high ranking Shin Bet
interrogator and up until 21 days with approval from a District Court
Under Israeli civil law, a detainee must have access to a
lawyer without delay, or within 48 hours in exceptional
Michaeli attempted to amend the emergency law by requiring
the Shin Bet to videotape all interrogations.
The videotaping of all
interrogations is a move that was recommended by the second report of the Turkel
Commission, which examined the legality of Israel’s apparatus for investigating
its own alleged violations of human rights during war and
The report, publicized in February, generally received
high marks from top state and military legal officials.
commission’s recommendation, the committee voted down Michaeli’s proposed
Another amendment by Rotem to extend the law until 2016
was also defeated.