Israel Still Holding Gazan Detainee Without Trial After One Year

Explosives expert Sami Najar, who the Shin Bet says is a potential danger to national security, is the only one left in detention out of over 100 Gazans arrested last summer.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Hamas soldiers in Gaza. Najar had headed the police bomb squad.
Hamas soldiers in Gaza. Najar had headed the police bomb squad.Credit: AP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Israel has been holding Sami Najar, a resident of the Gaza Strip, in custody without trial since Operation Protective Edge last summer. The Shin Bet security service says Najar remains in administrative detention because he has exceptional knowledge about building explosive devices. For now, it is not known when he will be released.

During the war, more than 100 residents of Gaza were detained and brought to Israel; 24 were indicted in a Be’er Sheva court. Najar is the only one of those arrested who is still being held in administrative detention, as per the law on illegal combatants. This law, passed in 2002, allows Israel to hold without trial persons who “took part in hostile actions against the State of Israel.” It does not limit the length of the period of administrative detention.

Najar, a 47-year-old resident of Khan Yunis, was arrested in his home by the Israel Defense Forces last July and transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning. Before his arrest, Najar had been the head of the Hamas police force’s bomb squad in Gaza. He has experience in both creating and neutralizing explosive devices, and took part in advanced training overseas.

Najar originally denied any connection to Hamas operations and claimed he had no contact with the movement’s military activities. All he did, he insisted, was police work.

For its part, the Shin Bet says Najar has extremely rare knowledge about explosives, and if he returns to Gaza he could serve the Hamas military wing with his technological knowledge.

Even though Najar later admitted to connections with Hamas during his interrogation, Israel decided not to put him on trial. In August, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal signed an order to detain him under the illegal combatant law; the order has since been extended.

Najar subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, which had received confidential information regarding the case, stating that if he were to be released, he would likely assist Hamas in the realm of explosives and demolition, in light of his apparent ties to the Islamist organization’s military operatives.

The Shin Bet said: “Najar was arrested during Operation Protective Edge. During his investigation he provided information about his activities in Hamas. He has connections to terrorists, [we have learned] from intelligence information concerning him, and he is also an expert in bombs and explosives. At the end of his investigation, and after no available evidence allowing him to be put on trial was found, the authorities – based on the law on imprisonment of illegal combatants – decided to detain him in light of the danger posed by his expertise.”

Najar's detention was originally approved by the Be’er Sheva District Court and also by the Supreme Court, with the latter agreeing with the security service's view that he is indeed an illegal combatant, and a potential danger to national security due to his expertise and to his ties to Hamas.

Najar’s case is similar to that of Dirar Abu Sisi, a commander of the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas), who was arrested in 2011 and brought to Israel under unclear circumstances. An electrical engineer by profession, Sisi apparently helped Hamas to develop missiles that could penetrate IDF armored vehicles.

As opposed to Najar, however, Sisi was tried and convicted in Be’er Sheva District Court, in March, for a long list of security offenses as part of a plea bargain. He was found guilty of various weapons charges and for belonging to an illicit organization, planning to commit murder and participating in the activities of a terror group.

Sisi has yet to be sentenced, but the prosecution is apparently going to ask for a 21-year jail term.

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