Justice Ministry: Current terror legislation out of date

Knesset passes first reading of a new bill proposing expanded powers for law enforcement agencies in preventing and dealing with terror.

By
August 4, 2011 13:46
4 minute read.
PFLP terrorists in Nablus [file photo]

Palestinian PFLP terrorists with guns in Nablus 311 (R). (photo credit: Abed Omar Qusini / Reuters)

 
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The Counterterrorism Bill, which passed its first reading in the Knesset Wednesday evening, is intended to replace existing outdated terror legislation, the Justice Ministry said Thursday.

“The Counterterrorism Law is a necessary step to promote the fight against terror, and to upgrade the tools available to law enforcement bodies in their struggle against terror organizations and the social and financial infrastructures that enable their activities,” said the Justice Ministry in a statement.

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Twenty-eight MKs voted in support of the proposed bill, and 11 opposed it.

The Counterterrorism Bill was formulated by the Justice Ministry’s Department of Legislative Consulting in a process that has taken over five years.

The team involved in creating the bill was led by former deputy attorney general Rachel Gottlieb with input from current Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and his predecessor, Menachem Mazuz.

Also involved in formulating the bill were representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency), the Money Laundering Prohibition Authority, the Council for National Security and the Foreign Ministry.

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Academics and members of the Israel Democracy Institute were also consulted.

Much of the country’s existing anti-terror legislation is out-of-date.

In part, the Counterterrorism Bill is intended to replace the Defense (Emergency) Regulations, a set of laws first enacted in 1945 by the British Mandate as an emergency measure following the 1936-1939 Arab revolts.

The regulations were later incorporated into Israeli legislation, but in many cases are outdated and no longer relevant.

This old legislation “is no longer compatible with the legal reality in Israel,” the Justice Ministry statement reads.

“They need to be replaced by regulations that are more balanced and proportionate, to ensure that enforcement agencies have the powers necessary to fulfill their roles, but which do not cause disproportionate harm to individual rights.”

The new bill includes what the Justice Ministry has called “modern tools” to help prevent terror organizations’ activities.

One of these “modern tools” is a new mechanism for declaring an organization to be a terror organization.

This will apply to organizations that work against the State of Israel, as well as foreign terror organizations.

The bill also establishes a new category of terror offenses, relating to terror activities themselves, as well as activities that support terror, such as recruitment and membership in a terror organization, incitement of terrorism, and transferring funds or other means of support for terrorist organizations.

This is to prevent terror groups from expanding, and accumulating influence among the civilian population, the Justice Ministry said.

The bill further calls for stringent punishment for “acts of terror,” as well as heavy sentences for those convicted of offenses related to assisting with terror acts.

A life-prison sentence would be extended to those convicted of terror offenses.

Police and the courts would be given extended powers to prevent terror, including the power to close places used by terrorist groups. Courts would be able to order the seizure of property from terror organizations.

The Minister of Defense would be given new powers to issue restraining orders against anyone connected to a terror organization.

The bill also makes it easier for Israel to prosecute terrorists.

It proposes removing the statute of limitations from terror offenses in cases where it was not possible to prosecute terrorists because they were abroad.

It also makes the legal process easier in cases where witnesses are in enemy territory, including in Gaza.

However, some human rights groups slammed the Counterterrorism Bill.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said the bill would cause “irreparable damage to the the human rights situation in Israel.”

Attorney Lila Margalit, ACRI’s head of Human Rights in the Criminal Process department, said that the regulations proposed in the bill “could turn law-abiding people and organizations into ‘terrorists.’” “The bill gives the state Draconian and unregulated authority to take strong measures against people and organizations without a trial, on the basis of suspicion alone, and without minimum guarantees that their rights will be protected,” said Margalit. “It opens the doors for huge and improper state interference in the political discourse and freedom of association of its citizens.”

One of the regulations proposed in the bill that ACRI said will damage human rights is the “broad and sweeping definition” of concepts such as “terror organization” and “terror act” and the use of administrative detention and restraining orders without trial.

Under the bill, terror suspects would not have to be brought before a judge for 96 hours.

In special cases, the bill permits extending the detention of a suspect in absentia, with the consent of the Shin Bet’s head of interrogation, the Attorney General and a Supreme Court Justice.

The bill will now be discussed by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in preparation for its second and third readings.

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