In Rare Move, Israel's Top Court Cuts Palestinian's Detention Without Charges

Maher Anati, arrested last April, was suspected of attempting a knife attack in the West Bank, but was released and immediately placed under administrative detention

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
Palestinians go through a barbed-wire fence into Israel as they attempt to cross to reach their workplaces close to the Israeli checkpoint of Mitar, near Hebron in the West Bank on March 2021.
Palestinians go through a barbed-wire fence into Israel as they attempt to cross to reach their workplaces close to the Israeli checkpoint of Mitar, near Hebron in the West Bank on March 2021.Credit: HAZEM BADER / AFP
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The High Court of Justice took the unusual step last week of shortening the administrative detention of a Palestinian, who was interrogated only once in the several months he was held without charges in Israel.

Maher Anati was arrested last April in Lakiya, in the Negev, for undocumented residence in Israel and questioned also about possibly attempting an attack some 10 months ago and about unauthorized entry into Israel. Ultimately, he was only charged with entering through a breach in the West Bank separation barrier and obstructing a soldier during his arrest.

Due to the lightness of the charges, he was released and immediately placed under administrative detention for six months, extended for six more, scheduled to expire in April.

Justices David Mintz, George Kara and Shaul Shochat accepted the appeal filed by Maher’s attorneys, ordering the shortening of his detention by two months, but refrained from explaining their decision.

Anati, 25, a resident of al-Fawar refugee camp, is to be released next month. He was arrested last April and interrogated on suspicion of attempting a terror attack, unlawful entry into Israel, harming security and unlawful possession of a weapon.

During questioning, he told investigators he entered Israel through a hole in the barrier near Meitar. He said he did so to find work and make money for his upcoming wedding. Investigators told him that intelligence had been received showing he planned to commit a stabbing attack in the West Bank on the night between April 9 and 10, and that he was seen approaching a military pillbox with a knife. Anati said he was at his job in Israel at the time, and denied ever possessing or dealing in weapons.

Two days after his arrest, he was indicted for unlawful residency and obstruction of a soldier in the course of his arrest. The state requested that he be remanded till the end of judicial proceedings, but the military tribunal judge rejected this motion due to the light charges presented. The same day, an administrative detention order was issued against him, giving as cause the suspected attempted stabbing attack, dealing in munitions and unlawful residency in Israel.

At the administrative detention hearing, the army's representative argued that the intelligence on Anati came close to the time of his arrest. It was further noted that Anati was convicted in 2013 of throwing rocks, but has a clean record beyond that. Anati denied all charges at the hearing, saying he was supposed to get married in a month and asked to be released for that reason.

Anati appealed the order and lost in court. Concurrently, he was convicted in a plea bargain of unlawful residency. His conviction stated that he stayed in Israel for the six days preceding his arrest. Last October his administrative detention was extended by six more months. His attorneys, Kamal Natour and Bilal Sabihat, opposed the extension. At the extension hearing, Anati once again denied the suspicions against him. At administrative detention hearings, no indictment is filed, so the suspect is not aware of the full list of charges and evidence against him.

Military Judge Refael Yemini approved the order, but said no new information was provided during the arrest. The attorneys appealed to the military appellate court, which also denied their motion. Military Judge Ronen Atzmon noted in his decision that there are “few but credible” pieces of evidence against Anati, which, combined with his “suspicious behavior” during his first arrest in Lakiya, suffice to approve the extension.

His attorneys appealed to the High Court against the extension. In response the state claimed that the administrative detention order was issued after filing a light indictment “due to the danger posed by the appellant and in the absence of a criminal detention alternative.”

The state’s representative at the High Court hearing, Kobi Abadi, said Anati was interrogated once during his detention – denying the charges – and that “the possibility was looked into” of questioning him again. After examining the classified material, Justices Kara, Mintz, and Shochat took the rare step of shortening the detention. The High Court justices tend not to intervene in administrative detention orders issued by the military.

Attorney Bilal Sabihat, representing Anati, told Haaretz, “It is exceedingly rare that the court intervenes and issues a ruling to shorten administrative detention, and that speaks volumes about the classified information they claim to have, especially since the Shin Bet decided to re-question him only after almost a year in holding.”

The Shin Bet security service declined Haaretz’s request for comment.

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