IDF Opposes Plan to Try Jewish Extremists in Military Courts

Suggestion follows incident where about 50 assaulted a top Israel Defense Forces officer and vandalized military vehicles on a West Bank base.

The military prosecution opposes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to try violent right-wing activists in military tribunals, partly because it wouldn't be an effective way of convicting Jewish extremists and partly because it would further politicize the army, sources said.

They said military prosecution officials made the comments in closed meetings last week.

Ramallah arson mosque - David Bachar - Tues 7 june 2011
David Bachar

Cabinet officials have authorized the IDF to further examine the option of using the military tribunals.

The military tribunal suggestion was one of several steps Netanyahu approved earlier this month, after dozens of right-wing activists clashed with police officers in Jerusalem and about 50 assaulted a top Israel Defense Forces officer and vandalized military vehicles on a West Bank base.

In addition to approving trying the right-wing activists in military courts, which would expedite their sentencing and likely make their punishment more severe, Netanyahu also approved placing Jewish extremists under administrative detention without a trial, a measure usually reserved for Palestinians suspected of being security risks.

Netanyahu did not consult with the military prosecution first, even though it is responsible for bringing suspects to trial in military courts. A senior officer in the military prosecution said he heard about Netanyahu's proposal from the TV news.

Netanyahu, who has reiterated his plan in meetings with IDF officials, did consult with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich before announcing his proposal.

The army expressed its opposition to the use of military tribunals when military prosecution representatives met last week with officials from the Justice Ministry and the State Prosecutor's Office.

They said trying Jewish extremists in military courts would have no practical benefit over trying them in civil courts, since military tribunals must adhere to the same standards of evidence. The IDF officials also said the plan would create further political rifts within the army, which they characterized as a strategic problem for Israel's military.

They also argued that this has been attempted before - in the 1970s, when it met with minimal success - and that those being tried would be likely to petition the High Court of Justice against the use of military courts, and might very well win.

The issue has also been addressed in an inquiry committee report on Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs, which found that law enforcement problems in the West Bank would not be allayed by use of the military.

Beyond that, the problems are exacerbated by the soldiers' difficulty in enforcing laws violated by settlers, the report found.

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