Israel Vows to Cut Detention Times for Palestinians

But gap with settlers will persist, ‘for security reasons.’

A view of the inside of an empty prison cell.
Dreamstime

The state will continue to narrow the gap between the detention times for Palestinians and for settlers in the West Bank, the State Prosecutor’s Office told the High Court of Justice on Thursday.

The state was responding to petitions filed in 2010 that already led the army to make changes. The most significant was to begin distinguishing between Palestinian minors and adults in how long they can be held after being arrested before being brought before a judge.

However, the state’s representatives told the court the changes would not lead to full equality in the duration of custody between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. The state also asked that it be allowed to introduce the changes gradually until May 2018.

Attorney Raghad Jeraisy of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel — one of four nongovernmental organizations that asked the High Court to eliminate the gap — said that the groups welcomed any narrowing of the gap. She added, however, that the changes that have been made should have been introduced earlier, and that it was regrettable to have to wait an additional year for further improvements. Jeraisy said that ACRI’s position was that keeping the gaps between the length of time for which Jews and Arabs in the West Bank are held in custody meant the acceptance of two different justice systems.

In its response, the State Prosecutor’s Office said that conditions in the West Bank made it more difficult to question Palestinians, gather preliminary evidence against them and transport them. Equalizing detention durations between Jews and Palestinians would harm security, the state wrote.

The state also asked the court not to set maximum detention periods, leaving such decisions to the state. Jeraisy said that ACRI will object to this request in the next hearing, scheduled for the end of the month.

In 2014, the High Court issued a partial ruling, saying it welcomed the changes that had been introduced up to that point. Since then, the state has repeatedly requested extensions of the deadline for implementing the changes, citing a lack of funding. In its response on Thursday, the state said that in light of the long delay, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had decided to adopt the changes without final approval of the budgetary allocations needed to implement them.

The shortening of detention, according to the state, will mainly involve the initial period after an arrest for nonsecurity-related charges, as well as the detention of suspections for the duration of legal proceedings.

One example of the disparity is the amount of time a suspect can be held before being brought before a judge. In the case of an Israeli Jew, whether a settler or not, 24 hours is the maximum. Palestinians, however, can be held for up to 48 hours, and 96 hours for a security offense. The state proposes reducing the 48-hour maximum to 24 hours.

A Jewish minor between the ages of 12 and 14 who lives in the West Bank can be held for 12 hours before being brought to court, while a Palestinian minor of the same age can be held for up to 24 hours (for both security and nonsecurity offenses). No change is to be made in that case. But the proposed new rules would reduce the maximum for nonsecurity cases, for both Jewish and Palestinian minors, to 12 hours. But in security cases, a Palestinian minor can be held for 24 hours before seeing a judge, but a Jewish minor for only 12 hours.

At present, a Jewish adult resident of the West Bank can be kept behind bars until the end of proceedings, but no longer than nine months; for Jewish minors, no longer than six months. The state proposes that Palestinian adults accused of nonsecurity offenses be kept in jail until the end of proceedings for a maximum of nine months instead of a year, as is now the practice. With regard to Palestinian minors, a judge will be able to order them to remain in jail until the end of proceedings for up to six months instead of a year in nonsecurity-related charges. There is no change in the case of suspected security offenses.

A judge will still be able to order Palestinian adults accused of security offenses to remain in jail until the end of proceedings for a maximum of 18 months. However, according to the proposed changes, minors accused of security offenses and ordered incarcerated until the end of proceedings can be held a maximum of nine months rather than a year.