Justice Minister Rejects Netanyahu’s Call for Special Security Court

Ayelet Shaked says there is no benefit to be gained from establishing terrorism tribunal, which would ‘only cause damage.’

Noam Moskowitz

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked opposes the idea of a new court to deal with security issues, say senior officials in her ministry. Haaretz revealed Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling the establishment of a new terrorism tribunal.

“The Justice Minister does not intend to advance the idea of establishing a special court for security affairs,” the officials told Haaretz. “Shaked thinks there is no need or value in establishing such a special court, and that this initiative will only cause damage,” they added.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu briefed Knesset members on the legal and security steps being taken by the government in response to the latest wave of Palestinian terror attacks. One of the items mentioned by the premier at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting was the possibility of establishing a special security court.

A number of MKs tried to understand what Netanyahu was planning and whether this involved forming a new judicial branch, but Netanyahu did not answer their questions. MKs present felt Netanyahu was interested in such a court handling matters such as administrative detention (imprisonment without trial), revoking residency permits and citizenship for terrorists, demolishing terrorists’ homes, as well as trying those indicted for carrying out terror attacks or funding and aiding terror.

The idea of establishing the special court was raised by Shin Bet security service officials during one of the meetings looking at possible responses to the terror attacks, said the senior ministry officials. However, after the idea was raised, no real discussion was held on the matter – at least, not one the Justice Ministry participated in, added the officials.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Netanyahu had mentioned such a court, but provided no further details.

The issue of a special court arose during Netanyahu’s summing up of measures being taken by the government in response to the spate of terror attacks over the last month. He declined to respond to questions from several MKs regarding how the court would be constituted.

During the weekly cabinet meeting on October 18, Netanyahu first presented the idea to ministers. His proposal was even noted in the minutes of the meeting released later by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit.

Netanyahu has stated publicly and in closed meetings in recent weeks that the judicial system is stalling the implementation of punitive measures against terrorists. The courts, he said, are too slow when dealing with petitions relating to the demolition of terrorists’ houses.

According to the prime minister, punitive action against terrorists or their families should be taken as soon after the crime as possible, in order to impress upon perpetrators the price they will pay and to deter other potential terrorists.

It is unclear whether the new system would rely on existing civilian and military courts, or whether Netanyahu intends to set up a new judicial system. 

Until 2000, the military court in Lod dealt with people accused of harming state security, under the authority of the Mandatory Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945.

Japanese Red Army terrorist Kozo Okamoto, who was part of a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine squad that carried out the massacre at Lod Airport (now known as Ben-Gurion Airport) in 1972, was tried by the Lod court, as were the two survivors of a Fatah group that attacked a civilian bus in 1978 on Route 2, murdering 35 Israelis and injuring over 70 others.

Several countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, have courts that deal with terrorist activity or national security matters. The United States, meanwhile, employed a military court at Guantanamo Bay in proceedings against some Al-Qaida members and others. Human rights groups criticize such courts, arguing that the judges are not independent and the accused do not receive a fair trial.