Israel's Top Court Refuses to Release Mentally-ill Man From Detention

Supreme Court justice deems the detainee ‘patently’ dangerous, but orders a psychiatric examination

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Civil disturbances in Nazareth in May, during the war that Israel fought against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Civil disturbances in Nazareth in May, during the war that Israel fought against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.Credit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to order the release of an Israeli Arab from Nazareth from administrative detention, despite documents indicating that he has a mental illness and had twice been hospitalized for his psychiatric condition.

The court upheld a decision by the Nazareth District Court that the man remain in administrative detention without trial for threatening  to commit a terrorist attack, while under questioning by investigators and after posting nationalistic Facebook messages.

The state suggested shortly before the Supreme Court hearing that a prison service psychiatrist examine the man, but his lawyer refused, saying that should have been done when he was first arrested. Justice Anat Baron ordered the state to arrange a psychiatric evaluation as soon as possible.

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But she said that she denied the man’s appeal in part based on classified information and the opinion of the Shin Bet security service, both of which were given to her out of the presence of a defense attorney. She was convinced, she said, that the detention was necessary because the man was “patently” dangerous. She rejected as “unfounded” the defense’s claim that there was no evidence of his dangerousness aside from what he told his interrogators.

As for the claim that detention of someone with mental illness require a psychiatrist’s opinion regarding their statements to interrogators, Baron wrote, “It’s impossible to accept the claim that an evaluation is needed to determine how credible the evidence is, and likewise the claim that this is a threshold condition for detention.”

The man’s lawyer, Sawsan Zahar of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the court’s decision “legitimizes administrative detentions of mentally ill people based solely on suspicious statements, without a professional expert evaluating whether the detained patient had sound and independent judgment at the time.”

Zahar also complained that “only after a two-month legal process was the detainee’s basic right to have a professional medical examination of his condition met. Imprisoning a man without charges is an extreme, unjustified step, especially when it further endangers his mental health,” she said.

In its appeal, Adalah stated that the man had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was committed to a psychiatric hospital in May 2018 and again in October 2020. After the second hospital stay, both his psychiatrist and Sha’ar Menashe psychiatric hospital described his condition as unstable and said he had suffered in the past from paranoid psychosis.

The 27-year-old man was arrested on May 17, during the recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as tensions and civil unrest spilled over and riots erupted in mixed cities between Israeli Arabs and Jews. He was interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, and on May 31, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a four-month administrative detention order against him. The district court approved the order on June 21.

In addition to this detainee, 14 other people are currently in administrative detention in Israel. Two are Arab citizens of Israel and the others are East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Last Thursday, Ghadanfar Abu Atwan, a West Bank Palestinian who had also been administratively detained, was released following a 65-day hunger strike.

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