According to the NGO HaMoked, the IDF recently broke its record for administrative detentions of Palestinians, dating back around 20 years to the 2002-2003 era of the Second Intifada, when the number passed the 1,000 mark.
Even during the later years of the Second Intifada and during the “Knife Intifada” of 2015-2016, the number of administrative detainees was more in the 700 range.
In quieter years over the last two decades, the numbers were usually down closer to 200-300 at a time.
Yet no one seems to care about this sharp increase.
Continued tensions over Temple Mount
The US and Europe have been loud about opposing any attempts or thoughts by the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change the status quo of the Temple Mount, Jewish settlements and aspects of Palestinian presence in east Jerusalem.
They criticized the IDF’s presumed killing of Palestinian Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and of shootings of Palestinian children or elderly persons, where Israel has generally framed the incidents as unfortunate accidents caught in the fog of conflict with other Palestinians firing on IDF troops. Some Israeli allies have criticized the approximately 150 Palestinians killed by the IDF in the West Bank in 2022.
There have even been top-level criticism from the US over attempts by Netanyahu to overhaul Israel’s judiciary – a non-security issue.
But no one, other than HaMoked and some minor outlets, is talking about the ballooning administrative detention issue – why?
It may be the question of picking one’s battles. Over the years, America has sometimes criticized Israel for using administrative detention and for other tactics like night arrests of Palestinian minors – and Europe has regularly done so.
However, there are so many other things that the US and Europe are worried about Netanyahu doing that administrative detention is the last of them.
Administrative detention may not be valid in the eyes of the US, Europe and much of the human rights community because it abridges standard criminal proceedings and rights. For example, defense lawyers do not get to see classified evidence that could expose Israeli intelligence sources and methods if revealed. But it still includes judicial proceedings, the judges see all of the classified evidence and most detainees are held for three to 12 months, meaning not forever.
REPLYING TO the HaMoked report, the IDF said that, “Administrative detention is only used in cases where security authorities have solid, grounded and reliable information that points to a concrete danger posed by the detainee… where there is no alternative… and taking into account the security situation” in the West Bank.
The IDF said that administrative detention judicial proceedings are serious and that decisions can be appealed to the High Court of Justice.
But the above reasons are not the only ones for the US and Europe not jumping on the unusually large numbers. Groups slamming administrative detention often do not provide context. 2022 was not just an especially dangerous year for Palestinians. There were 31 Israelis killed, compared with five, three and four in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Most dangerous were the 285 shooting incidents – almost five times as many as the 61 in 2021, ten times the 31 in 2020 and 15 times the 19 in 2019.
This picture portrays violence from the West Bank Palestinians against Israelis as having escalated in 2022 – not only at the low-grade mass-protest-riot level, but also using deadly weapons.
Just last week, seven Israelis were killed in the outskirts of Jerusalem in one terror attack.
The fact is that Israeli administrative detention of Palestinians goes up when terror against Israeli goes up – and goes down (though it does not disappear) when terror against Israelis goes down.
Israeli allies know this – so even if they may push back on Israeli administrative detention practices, they are unlikely to do so until the threat to Israelis subsides.
But this does not mean that administrative detention is accepted globally or that Jerusalem should feel like it has free rein and can continue these high numbers of administrative detention indefinitely.
THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice both have Israel in their crosshairs.
The ICJ has a worse track record against Israel, clashing publicly even with Israel’s Supreme Court over the legality of the West Bank security wall in 2004.
Israeli pessimists would say the Jewish state is going to get roasted by them no matter what and ignore them.
But the fact is that the ICC has rejected two attempts to criminally probe Israel and it only approved the third attempt after an extended six-year preliminary review.
It could have gone after Israel all three times and rushed its decision in one year like UNHRC investigative bodies generally do – but it did not.
Even now, almost two years into the criminal probe, not a single arrest warrant has been issued for an Israeli and the ICC may yet close the criminal probe without any indictments.
In deciding how much to trust Israeli justice, the ICC will be looking at issues like administrative detention and night arrests of minors.
Former top justice ministry official Roy Schondorf, who handled relations with the ICC for over a decade has told The Jerusalem Post he firmly believes that Israeli efforts to confront and take into account criticism on controversial issues wherever possible made the situation with the court much better than it would have been.
Even during the Second Intifada, the numbers dropped lower than they are now by the middle years.
If Israel wants to continue to have such an impact on the ICC, it is unlikely that it can keep administrative detention numbers this high for very long.