Text size

The Public Security Ministry's proposal for an unprecedented expansion of police powers over detainees, as reported by Tomer Zarchin in Sunday's Haaretz, should horrify every citizen, especially law-abiding ones.

The goal of the proposal - which includes permission for a 48-hour delay before detainees are allowed to meet their lawyers or come before a judge, the authority to initially detain a suspect for up to nine hours, and permission to use force against detainees - is to provide more efficient means for the police to deal with the protests expected following the declaration of the Palestinian state. The assumption is that lacking a sufficient number of police personnel in the face of the expected large number of protesters, the police will need a longer period to process the detainees.

The proposal, which is rooted in emergency laws - laws against which people are fighting in every Arab country - shows the panic that has gripped the country's leaders, and represents a clear and present danger to the foundations of democracy in Israel. If it is approved, it could serve the police not only against rioters and demonstrators for a Palestinian state, but also against citizens suspected of other infractions.

Demonstrations are not acts of terror, and the intention to declare a Palestinian state has not taken the Israel Police by surprise. A shortage of police cannot be an excuse to so seriously impair civil rights, and it certainly cannot serve as a pretext to delay detainees' meetings with their lawyers.

However, we should be concerned more than merely from a purely legal perspective. Imposing emergency laws in Israel because of possible developments in the territories is incontrovertible proof that the legal realities there are trickling into the country itself. After all, the Israel Defense Forces does what it wants in the territories, issues orders and detains suspects, prevents detainees from meeting with their lawyers and judges them itself.

Adopting emergency laws for temporary reasons can create a huge temptation to turn them into regular laws - for long-term use - of a type that can be adopted at any time and against anyone. The police must deploy properly for mass demonstrations, but such deployment cannot include shattering the backbone of basic civil rights.