Why the Left must oppose administrative detention for Jewish terrorists

Using administrative detention on violent settlers has far more to do with a state seeking to restore its monopoly on violence than equality, Palestinian safety or an end to the occupation.

By Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Soldiers arrest a masked settler (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
File photo of Israeli soldiers arresting a masked settler youth. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Jewish extremists are suspected to have been behind the heinous murder of an 18-month-old Palestinian child in the West Bank last week. Following the murder, Prime Minister Netanyahu branded the perpetrators “terrorists.” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog proclaimed that “Jewish terrorists” should be treated just like “Islamist terrorists,” saying they should be held in administrative detention and that their families’ homes should be demolished.

This was not just empty rhetoric. A few days later, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved the use of administrative detention — indefinite imprisonment without trial or indictment — against Jewish terror suspects.

It needs to be stated clearly: we on the Left —who believe in the values of human rights and democracy, and who oppose the occupation because it is a flagrant violation of Palestinians’ rights and dignity — must not hesitate in our absolute condemnation of the expanded use of administrative detention.

There is nothing progressive about the suggestion, blustered both by so-called “left-wing” leaders like Isaac Herzog and the far-right-wingers like our prime minister, that administrative detention be used against “Jewish terrorists also.” Administrative detention is a hideous and draconian practice, and allowing it to occasionally cross over ethnic lines does not make it any more humane. What it does do is retroactively and preemptively justify the use of such practices against their main target, i.e. Palestinians.

Nor should we allow ourselves to think, even for a moment, that official or government condemnations of and crackdowns on these “Jewish terrorists” are an indication of progress. They are not. If anything, they are an extension of a certain classic type of mainstream Zionist politics.

The mainstream Zionist leadership has been willing to use brutal tactics against militant right-wing Jews for nearly a century, including even assassinations before the founding of the State[1]. But neither the killing of the unnamed leader of the extremist underground cell the 1920s nor using administrative detention against members of today’s extremist underground cells have anything to do with upholding Palestinians’ rights, freedoms or lives. Rather, they are the actions of a regime unwilling to forfeit its monopoly over violence.

Last summer, Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s murder by Jewish extremists drew similar waves of condemnation from virtually every echelon of the Israeli political arena. A few weeks later, almost every one of those same people rallied behind a brutal and unnecessary war on Gaza that left over 500 Palestinian children dead. A few weeks before Ali Saad Dawabshe was murdered by a firebomb, a teenager named Mohammad al-Ksabah was shot in the back and murdered — as he fled — by an IDF commander. Or, if the reader takes umbrage at this comparison, noting that Mohammad al-Ksabah was indeed suspected of throwing rocks, let us recall 14-year-old Yusuf a-Shawamreh, who was shot to death last year by a deadly IDF ambush. His crime was plucking edible thistles near a breach in the separation barrier, in order to help feed his family. The investigation into that case was closed, with no indictments served.

The outrage flowing from the halls of the Knesset following the murders of Ali Saad Dawabshe and Mohammad Abu Khdeir may have been genuine, but it clearly was not simple outrage over the killing of an unarmed Palestinian child. It was outrage at the young men who dare to commit violence against Palestinians whilse wearing colors that are not olive green. In fact, I would not be wholly astonished to hear a politician or two suggesting that a recent draft law seeking to implement a death sentence for terrorists, be applied to Jewish terrorists as well.

Returning to the issue of administrative detention. On a human level, it is an abhorrent practice. On a public level, its application against a handful of Jews runs the risk of casting a false shade of legitimacy onto its continued use against Palestinians. And on a practical level, we need to recognize that use in this case has much to do with a state seeking to restore its monopoly on violence, and little to do with any vision of civil equality or an end to the occupation.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a writer and political activist based out of Jerusalem. He is on Twitter @Moriel_RZ, and blogs independently at www.thelefternwall.com.


[1] In his book, 1929: Year Zero of the Jewish-Arab Conflict, Dr. Hillel Cohen tells the story of an assassination carried out — according to a testimony from one Ariyeh Butrimovich, a member of the Hagganah’s assassination squad in Jerusalem — against a young Jewish leader of a “group of people in Jerusalem that intend[ed] to blow up the Mosque of Omar [in the Old City]” (Cohen, page 133-135).