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The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is to deliberate today on the findings of a study by Mutagim Consulting, according to which the average duration of a detention hearing is six minutes. The findings, which were published in yesterday's Haaretz, expose the unbearable lightness and haste with which citizens are jailed in Israel.

Of all police arrest requests, 79 percent are granted. Of about 3,000 detention hearings that were reviewed for the study, 351 took just two minutes, in only 6 percent of cases was an alternative to custody granted, and in fewer than 15 percent of cases was the suspect released on bail. These figures should disturb anyone who cares about the law and human rights in Israel. They paint a sad picture of the justice system, which in many cases is a rubber stamp for the police. Its deliberations are a kind of conveyor belt, at the end of which too many people find themselves behind lock and key.

Arrest, which often turns into a traumatic event, should be the last option, imposed only after careful consideration. Courthouse case backlogs cannot justify taking such harsh measures. It is convenient for the police to lock up suspects, whether for purposes of interrogation or of punishment and deterrence, but the justice system should serve as a curb to that impulse.

Instead, it responds with perfunctory deliberations - how can a two-minute hearing be anything else? - and with near-automatic approval of police detention requests.

Many defense lawyers complain that judges do not have the time needed to properly review the case file of the suspect before them. According to Israel's Deputy Chief Public Defender, Dr. Yoav Sapir, about a third of all detentions would be eliminated by permitting suspects to be released at the police station rather than being forced to spend a night in jail. The following day they are brought to court for a hasty bail hearing that could have been conducted before, and without, the overnight arrest.

The findings of this study should bring about a change. The options for releasing suspects on bail immediately upon arrest should be expanded, and detention hearings should be given due attention, despite the time pressures of the courts. Human lives and the character of Israel's rule of law hang in the balance.