Israeli Judge Challenges Shin Bet's Ban on Security Prisoner Making Phone Calls

Court gives prison service three weeks to reconsider prohibiting Afnan Abu Jweid - who has served eight years for arms trading - from making daily, supervised phone calls.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

A judge has criticized the Shin Bet security service for failing to provide any concrete basis for its refusal to allow a security prisoner to make supervised phone calls. On March 24, Haifa District Court Judge Alexander Keasry gave the Israel Prison Service – which acted in accordance with the Shin Bet's position – three weeks to re-examine its response to the request of the prisoner, Afnan Abu Jweid.

An Israeli citizen from Arara in the Negev, Abu Jweid has served eight years (out of a 10-year sentence) for arms trading. He petitioned the Haifa District Court to request that the prison service allow him to make daily, supervised telephone calls – as two other security prisoners were permitted to do last year (one of them is a Jew, the other an Arab). In contrast to criminal prisoners, those defined as security prisoners – the majority of whom are Palestinians and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship – are not permitted to make daily calls from the communal phones in prison, except in extremely rare cases. Although AbuJweid is a security prisoner, it is agreed that he does not have ties to any organization and his offenses were committed purely out of financial motives.

In January, lawyer Abeer Baker, who heads the Legal Clinic for Prisoners' Rights, in the Law Faculty of Haifa University, attached additional arguments to Abu Jweid 's petition, which was heard on Sunday.

The Shin Bet's legal advisor in the southern region, Vicki A., argued that the Shin Bet was willing to allow Abu Jweid to make one supervised phone call as a one-off. The fact that there is no concrete, incriminating information on Abu Jweid is a reason not to acquiesce to his request, she argued. "The absence of concrete, up-to-date information is the basis for the suspicion that the petitioner and others like him will exploit the benefit [the phone call]. This requires that caution be exercised in light of the increasing danger of the offense."

The Shin Bet claimed that courts in Israel have supported this position in the past. But Judge Keasry wrote in his decision that he was unconvinced by these arguments. He said that the Shin Bet had given only a general opinion about the risk emanating from security prisoners, but that only concrete information about the petitioner could justify depriving him of the use of the telephone. The judge also noted that after eight years in jail, it is reasonable to assume that any danger resulting from Abu Jweid's offenses has in fact decreased.

A prison in Israel.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

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