Israel to Keep Detained Palestinians From Appearing in Court Even After COVID Subsides

Israel's attorney general slams the move, saying the decision 'not to bring detainees living in Judea and Samaria to court violates legal directives and has no legal foundation'

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"The fight against coronavirus does not in any way justify an illegal governmental action," the Attorney General said
"The fight against coronavirus does not in any way justify an illegal governmental action," the Attorney General saidCredit: Moti Milrod
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The head of the Israel Prison Service ordered the suspension of in-person courthouse appearances for Palestinian detainees, despite the expiration of the regulation authorizing the use of video calls for detention hearings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulation cannot be extended because Israel does not have a Justice Minister. A number of Palestinian detainees have therefore been released, with courts citing the violation of suspects’ rights as a result of the decision by Commissioner Katy Perry.

The justice minister and the public security minister must renew the regulation each month for it to remain in effect. When it expired Wednesday, the prison service resumed bringing detainees to court despite the increased risk of spreading COVID-19, but the agency stopped the practice for Palestinians in detention after Perry’s order.

At a detention hearing in the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Friday for a Palestinian man who was arrested on suspicion of being in Israel without a permit, the prison service representative told the court the defendant was absent on account of an agency directive. He said the hearings were to be held by videoconference because the detainees were not vaccinated against the coronavirus and could infect other incarcerated individuals. The court ordered the suspect’s release.

The pattern was repeated in a number of courtrooms around the country. “The IPS isn’t taking chances,” an agency representative told the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court in another hearing.

Commissioner Katy Perry, around five years agoCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

In the wake of these developments, Israel’s Chief National Public Defender, Yoav Sapir, appealed to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who instructed Perry to comply with the law. In a written statement, he noted that the prison service’s decision was made without consulting the attorney general and violated instructions. “The Israel Prison Service decision not to bring detainees living in Judea and Samaria to court violates legal directives and has no legal foundation. The fight against the coronavirus does not in any way justify unlawful governmental action or human rights violations,” Mendelblit wrote.

In December and January, the prison service refused to vaccinate inmates in its facilities, in violation of directives issued by the attorney general and the Health Ministry, due to the opposition of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. Prisons began vaccinating eligible inmates only after being ordered to do so by the High Court of Justice, in the wake of a petition submitted by human rights organizations.

In response, the Israel Prison Service said Perry did not order a directive not to bring detainees living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to court. “In coordination with the Justice Ministry and the Courts Administration and in accordance with the position of the Health Ministry, it was decided that a prisoner or detainee who is required to be in quarantine or who has been given a medical opinion [advising against it] shall not be brought to court. Since [Thursday] the IPS has brought around 800 prisoners and detainees, including from Judea and Samaria, to court,” the prison service said in a statement.

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