Shin Bet Chief Warns Ministers: Expelling Families Won't Deter Terrorists, Will Inflame West Bank

Cabinet ministers approved bill, despite dire warnings by IDF chief of staff, attorney general

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayeled Shaked on December 10, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill Sunday that would facilitate the expulsion of assailants’ families from their homes to other areas of the West Bank.

After a heated debate, and despite the objection of the attorney general, the head of the Shin Bet security service and the IDF Chief of Staff, the security cabinet approved the bill before passing it on to the ministerial committee for its approval.

According to the bill, within seven days from the date of an incident, the IDF Central Command chief will be able to expel the families of assailants who perpetrate or try to perpetrate a terror attack .

Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman said his agency opposes the bill, according to senior officials who were present at the security cabinet debate. Argaman said it's a bill "that cannot be implemented," explaining that "we are unable to go into Hebron and Nablus every day and see who lives where and whether the family has returned to their residence."

Argaman warned that the bill would "bring about a result that is the opposite of deterrence since its implementation would create tensions," adding that it would make it more difficult to interrogate family members while investigating terror attacks. The Shin Bet chief is also worried the bill, if it becomes a law, will harm his organization's ability to use administrative detention as a tool in investigations since courts will rule that administrative detention is unnecessary if expelling the family is an option. 

Argaman apparently led the charge against the bill, supported by the military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

A senior security official said the bill is a result of public pressure, not operational need, asking: "How exactly are we supposed to do this? Take families and throw them in the Hebron Hills? And then what? Watch them so that they don't move? Chase them each time they go back to their village and then throw them out again?"

Last month, defense establishment officials told a Knesset committee that it is legally impossible to expel assailants' family members to other areas of the West Bank unless they are themselves suspected of engaging in terrorist activity.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party were the main forces behind the pressure to pass the bill.

Bennett said the debate on the bill, which was originally due to take place weeks ago, was postponed at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to take steps to deter terrorism. Bennett said, however, that as the bill hasn't been promoted, he decided to move the legislation forward.

Bennett said he was "happy" that the bill was approved "despite the vigorous opposition by the jurists surrounding Netanyahu."

The Likud said in response that the party "supports the law to expel terrorists' families" and intends to bring it to the Knesset floor for the first round of votes out of the required three.

There have been numerous bills submitted over the past several years to allow the deportation of assailants’ families, but none of them have gotten anywhere.

Current law enables the interior minister to strip noncitizen assailants or their families of their Israeli residency rights. A 2008 amendment to the Citizenship Law allows the interior minister to revoke the citizenship of persons involved in terror activities, among other circumstances. The move must be approved by a court and by the attorney general. 

A parallel military order allows the army’s Civil Administration to expel assailants or their families from Israeli-controlled to Palestinian-Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank.

This is possible largely because the law granting the minister this power was enacted prior to the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. Since the Basic Law contains a grandfather clause, protecting preexisting legislation from judicial review, the High Court of Justice can’t overturn the existing law on the grounds that it contradicts the Basic Law, as it could with any legislation passed after 1992.

A new law would almost certainly face High Court scrutiny and might be overturned.