Israel is currently imprisoning over 350 Palestinians and three Jewish Israelis without trial and with no way of defending themselves against charges they often aren’t even allowed to see. As Palestinians demand international intervention, Israeli lawmakers move to codify the practice.
Activists in the West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) intervene on behalf of Palestinians being held by Israel in administrative detention.
Administrative detention is a practice, taken from British Mandate law, which Israel uses to detain Palestinians (and some Jews) without charge or trial — indefinitely.
Administrative detention orders are reviewed every six months, but the detainees are often not told of what alleged crimes they are being accused or shown the evidence against them. The result is that it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against an administrative detention order.
The practice has been the focus of unusual public attention in recent months. International attention tends to surround Palestinian administrative detainees, mainly including Khader Adnan, Muhammad Allan and Oday Stiti, who won their freedom after staging lengthy and dangerous hunger strikes.
More recently, following the murder of three members of a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Duma, Israel announced it would start using administrative detention against Jewish terrorism suspects. (I wrote earlier this week about how Israeli authorities are using administrative detention as a substitute for good ol’ fashion police work.)
The Israeli government is using the Duma murders — and authorities’ difficulty in prosecuting those responsible — in order to push through massive, new anti-terrorism legislation. The draft law, which consecutive governments have been failed to push through the parliament for years, seriously erodes already tenuous civil liberties and due process, and recklessly expands the definition of what constitutes terrorism and who can be classified a terrorist.
In addition, the new law takes a number of draconian Mandate-era “emergency laws” such as administrative detention, and codifies them into regular Israeli civilian law. If it passes, administrative detention will become even more mainstreamed and acceptable when security forces have trouble bringing strong enough indictments.
An unnecessary practice
In most modern legal systems, police or prosecutors release suspects when they don’t have enough evidence to charge them with a crime. In Israel, especially when the suspect is Palestinian, prosecutors and security forces find other ways to keep them behind bars.
Several years ago, at the height of mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners, a senior Israeli security official confirmed that the state uses administrative detention in many cases out of laziness and when it just hadn’t bothered to collect enough evidence.
Then-public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovich recommended to security officials at the time that administrative detention be used “only if there is a need and not in all cases,” an implicit admission that the practice was being applied in far more cases than the exceptional, extreme circumstances in which international law permits its use.
In a number of recent high profile cases, Israel has implicitly exposed once again that it is using administrative detention as a first, and not last resort.
Among the demonstrators in Nablus on Thursday were supporters and family members of Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar. The Israeli army arrested Jarrar in her Ramallah-area home in March of this year and placed her under administrative detention a few days later. The accusation against her was that she had failed to comply with a military order exiling her from her hometown.
Because she is a woman, an elected parliamentarian and because of the ludicrously trivial allegations against her, an international pressure campaign was launched, demanding that Israel cancel her administrative detention order. It worked. But instead of releasing Jarrar, the Israeli military prosecutor conjured up an equally ludicrous indictment. Why wasn’t Jarrar charged in the first place? Laziness.
When the military prosecutor finally charged Jarrar in military court, however, the judge did something entirely uncharacteristic of the system in he serves: he ordered Jarrar released on bail. It turns out that the list of 12 farcical charges against her, which largely consist of crimes related to membership in the political party she represents in the Palestinian parliament, did not make her a threat to public safety.
That didn’t fly, however. The prosecution appealed, and won, and Jarrar has remained in jail since. Twice ordered released. Still in prison.
Back in Nablus, a few dozen Palestinians are still hoping that the international community, played here by the ICRC, might intervene against the entire codified system of injustice used to oppress them and deny them even the most basic civil rights.
Unfortunately, with Israel’s hardening nationalist politicians advancing broad new counter-terrorism laws, it appears that those systems of oppression and denial of basic rights are only becoming more mainstream.