Court rules against Palestinian hunger strikers

Justice Rubinstein says hunger strike should not be a factor in decision to extend the prisoners' administrative detention.

PALESTINIANS RALLY in Ramallah for Prisoners Day 370 (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
PALESTINIANS RALLY in Ramallah for Prisoners Day 370
(photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
In a unanimous decision, Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Yoram Danziger and Noam Sohlberg said they found no reason to contravene a military court ruling that extended two Palestinian prisoners’ detention.
Rubinstein said that a hunger strike by Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh should not be the single factor in a military court’s imposition or extension of administrative detention – detainment of alleged terrorists without trying them in court.
But he criticized the security authorities for holding the detainees without a proper interrogation that includes certain issues preceding the arrest.
Rubinstein added that the time frame for administrative detentions should be shorter in order to facilitate more frequent judicial review.
Halahleh has been in administrative detention since June 28, 2010. The military court extended his imprisonment for a further three months until February 27.
Diab has been in administrative detention since August 16, 2011, which the military court extended by six months until February 7. Diab is currently hospitalized in the Assaf Harofeh hospital, where he is conscious but refuses to ingest fluids, the court stated.
Defense attorneys Jawad Boulos and Jamil Khatib said in the High Court petition that administrative detention is a draconian measure.
They added that the state refuses to grant access to intelligence material on the detainees, prevents them from formulating a proper defense in military court hearing.
In Monday’s ruling, Rubinstein said that revealing classified intelligence material about an administrative detainee could harm the agents and their methodology.
It was right, therefore, that the courts should be the body designated to examine that material, he said.
However, the justice added on a cautious note that perhaps a ‘trusted’ lawyer with a security clearance could double- check the classified material.
Such a lawyer would be a retired judge or senior public servant, Rubinstein said.
In the ruling, the justices said that classified information and military court rulings on the prisoners proved that they were active in terrorist group, Islamic Jihad.
In Halahleh’s case, the court stated that he served jail time for previous security offenses.
The security services – who presented the classified material to the military court – said that Halahleh is accused of transferring funds, including from overseas, to finance the terrorist group’s activities.
Military judges chose to extend Halahleh’s detention since he posed a real security threat, Rubinstein said.
A separate military court ruling on April 23 said that Halahleh’s hunger strike did not affect its detention assessment.
“It could be estimated with a high degree of certainty that, if released, he would endanger regional security,” the decision said.
For that reason the court decided that there was “no reason to intervene in the current extension” of Halahleh’s administrative detention.
In Halahleh’s petition, attorney Khatib argued that the authorities did not consider the duration of detention and criticized the lack of additional investigations.
But in the ruling, the justices noted that Halahleh was in administrative detention for nearly two years.
“Even regardless of the hunger strike, this justifies a senior-level discussion on the matter about whether to request another extension [to the detention] or whether there are better alternatives,” Rubinstein wrote.
If the authorities deemed that extending Halahleh’s administrative detention was warranted, Rubinstein said, they must undertake a “more serious” interrogation into his case.
The state alleges that the second prisoner, Diab, is an active member of Islamic Jihad, and was a senior leader in the terror group, with ties to Gaza and overseas – assisting the organization’s funding, the justices said.
Diab was imprisoned from 2003-2010 for separate security offenses, the state noted.
Classified information presented to the court indicated that Diab had access to weaponry and showed “a willingness for military action.”
In its ruling to extend Diab’s detention, the military court said his activities were “a dangerous part of a radical terror group.”
The court found that Diab’s hunger strike did not justify a release from administrative detention.
However, Rubinstein criticized the fact that the security services failed to interrogate Diab about his alleged access to weaponry.
“We believe, regardless of the hunger strike, that in the face of the intelligence gathered after Diab’s arrest, he should be interrogated on this issue, as far as his medical situation allows,” Rubinstein said.
The justices added that, in their opinion – since Diab is suspected of terror financing – administrative detention should be for periods shorter than six months, to allow greater judicial review and oversight.
Despite the petitioners’ medical situation, Rubinstein recommended a review of the Conditional Release Law, although it does not apply in this case. The law says a prisoner may be released on conditional bail if his continue stay in prison poses a mortal danger.
In response to the court’s decision, defense lawyer Boulos said that on the margins of their ruling, the High Court justices had “dealt for the first time with the issue of the provisions of administrative detention, particularly with respect to classified material and prisoners’ medical conditions.”
Physicians for Human Rights, who treated the two petitioners, slammed the ruling, calling it “the effective equivalent of handing down a death sentence.” The human rights group said there are 320 Palestinians held in administrative detention.
“The judges are tightening their hold on administrative detainees, which, due to the absence of concrete evidence, the inability of the detainee to defend himself in court and the unlimited renewal of his/her detention term, constitutes a full negation of liberties and human freedom,” a spokesman for the group said.
Later on Thursday, Islamic Jihad threatened that Israel would “bear the full consequences” of the court ruling, dubbing it “a decision to execute the two prisoners, after the enemy’s frantic efforts to break their resolve and end their heroic battle", according to the Gaza-based Felesteen news site.