Israel Seeks Legislation Allowing Shin Bet to Hold Citizens in West Bank Facility

Lawmakers warn bill is meant to 'bolster the institution of political arrests' and is 'a direct outgrowth of the oppression of the Arab community'

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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A guard tower at the detention facility at Ofer military base, 2019.
A guard tower at the detention facility at Ofer military base, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Justice Ministry has submitted legislation that would let the Shin Bet security service hold arrested Israelis at its facilities in the West Bank, in a move lawmakers say would apply to Arab suspects.

The bill passed the first of three required Knesset votes on Monday in a 15-8 vote and will now be referred to committee. The ministry is expected to continue trying to advance the bill after the new government is sworn in.

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Construction of the Shin Bet’s new interrogation facility in the West Bank is expected to be completed this year, the bill’s explanatory notes said.

The bill would allow Israelis suspected of terrorism or other security-related offenses to be interrogated at this facility on two conditions – if the public security minister authorizes it, and if the commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank officially declares it a lockup facility. Specifically, the bill says, an arrested Israeli can be held anyplace in the West Bank that the commander has formally declared either a prison or a lockup, “as long as the site has also been declared a lockup facility.”

Lawmaker Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan, who formally presented the bill on behalf of Justice Minister Benny Gantz, told the Knesset that it’s meant to allow Israelis to be held and interrogated at the lockup on the army’s Ofer base. Under existing law, Israelis can’t be held in the West Bank.

He said the new facility complies with all Israeli laws governing detention conditions, including a High Court of Justice ruling stipulating the minimum space each prisoner or detainee must have.

Lawmaker Osama Saadi of the Joint List asked Ginzburg whether the bill relates only to Arab Israelis. Ginzburg replied that it did not.

In an opinion submitted to Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri in February, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel argued that the bill has two legal problems. First, it said, interrogating suspects from Israel in a facility outside Israel’s official borders is unconstitutional.

In practice, this happens even now, since East Jerusalem Palestinians – who are permanent residents but not citizens of Israel – are often taken to lockups in the West Bank. But now, “this practice will receive legal authorization, and use of it will likely expand significantly.”

Second, the NGO said, it’s problematic for the Knesset to pass legislation regarding the West Bank at all, since it isn’t officially part of Israel. The IDF is formally the sovereign power there, so usually, rules affecting the West Bank are promulgated as military orders. However, the Knesset has passed laws relating to the West Bank before, as long as they don’t directly affect the Palestinians living there.

Lawmaker Ofer Cassif of the Joint List also criticized the bill, charging that it was meant “to bolster the institution of political arrests” and that it violated international law. “The bill’s explicit goal is to transfer [Israeli] citizens to a lockup and prison facility in occupied territory, territory that was seized illegally and where people live under a clear apartheid regime,” he said.

In the government’s view, he continued, “Palestinian Arabs aren’t entitled to human rights, and also not to full and equal civil rights. If the government gets its wish with this dangerous bill, it will be taking another step toward importing apartheid from the occupied territories to Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, also of the Joint List, termed the bill “a direct outgrowth of the oppression of the Arab community. Why do I say that? There are around 2,000 detainees. They have filled the lockups and prisons, and there’s no more room. So now, they want a law that will let them imprison our young men, young Arab men, in the Shin Bet’s facilities at Ofer.”

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