Israeli Army Rescinds Limits on Lawyers Meeting With Clients in Military Jail

IDF had barred entry to attorneys lacking special authorization.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

The Israel Defense Forces has set aside an order that barred certain lawyers from meeting with imprisoned soldiers or people jailed for refusing to do military service.

Under this order, issued by the commander of the Military Police, only lawyers authorized to appear in a military court were allowed to meet with inmates of military prisons.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, wrote the army on February 28 to demand that this order be rescinded, arguing that preventing inmates from meeting with the lawyer of their choice was illegal.

The Military Advocate General’s Corps responded last week, and from its response it appears the order has now been rescinded. However, the MAG’s letter contains no explicit admission such an order existed.

“There is no barrier to any attorney visiting an inmate, even if he isn’t a military defense attorney or someone with authorization to appear in military courts,” the letter said, adding that if any lawyer were told otherwise, “it was a misunderstanding.” The IDF Spokesman’s Office gave Haaretz an identical response.

The Military Police order first became public knowledge in late January, when attorney Rawan Agbaria of the New Profile organization was barred from visiting a conscientious objector in the IDF’s Prison 6 on the grounds that she wasn’t authorized to appear in a military court. Until then, attorneys who weren’t authorized to appear in military courts had encountered no problems visiting military prisoners.

To be sure this wasn’t a fluke, Agbaria asked two other lawyers – one Druze and one Jewish – to try visiting their clients in military jails. But they were denied access on the same grounds.

The only confirmation these attorneys could find for the existence of such an order was a MAG Corps newsletter published on February 17, which said “in accordance with regulations issued under the Military Justice Law and the instructions of the chief military police officer,” only attorneys authorized to appear in military courts could enter military prisons.

Agbaria tried again to visit her client on Sunday. But she said the prison guards didn’t seem to have gotten the new orders yet, because they initially demanded to see her authorization.

The IDF court in Ofer Prison in West Bank.Credit: JINI