Gideon Levy, Are You Sure I Didn't Lift a Finger?

Omer Bar-Lev
Omer Bar-Lev
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The funeral of Suha Jarrar in Ramallah on Tuesday.
Omer Bar-Lev
Omer Bar-Lev

I read with great interest Gideon Levy’s opinion piece in Haaretz (“Damn them all,” July 15), in which he writes, “Damn Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, the heartless coward, who didn’t lift a finger to change this evil decision,” and I asked myself, how can Levy be so sure that I didn’t lift a finger?

Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman was the first person to draw my attention to the fact that the daughter of Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar, a security prisoner in Israel, had died, and that due to her incarceration Jarrar was unable to attend the funeral.

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I told Touma-Sliman I would examine the issue and, if I had the authority to do so, I would permit Jarrar to attend her daughter’s funeral. I contacted the commissioner of the Israel Prison Service, Lt. Gen. Katy Perry, to find out whether the commissioner had the authority to permit the bereaved mother a leave of absence to attend her daughter’s funeral.

The commissioner’s response, which was submitted to me in writing and even reported in this newspaper by Jack Khoury, was that in light of the offenses for which the security prisoner is serving her sentence, her request does not meet the minimum requirements for its consideration, in accordance with Israel Prison Service regulations.

I did not stop there. I turned to the legal adviser of the Public Security Ministry to examine whether, despite the law’s provisions, the public security minister had the authority to allow the security prisoner to attend her daughter’s funeral.

For practical purposes, the answer was negative. The law could only be changed through complex legislation that could not possibly be completed within the narrow time frame available to us.

On the one hand, I was disappointed to discover that I could not order the commissioner to implement my wishes. On the other hand, I was relieved to know that the public security minister does not have the authority to change or even violate the law of the state with the wave of their hand.

Now I will ask Gideon Levy to carry out the following thought experiment. In the same forum in which I heard for the first time about the case of Khalida Jarrar, I also heard for the first time from Malek Hassouna of Lod, who spoke with tears in his eyes about his son Moussa, who was shot to death in that city by Jews during the intercommunal riots in Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, in an incident whose circumstances are still under investigation.

How, in your opinion, would my predecessor in the Public Security Ministry, or his predecessors, have behaved had they the authority to order the release of detainees and prisoners in such a case? Alternatively, what would he have done had he the legal authority to give direct orders to the police officers who faced anti-Netanyahu protesters in Paris Square?

I am glad, and I assume Gideon Levy and most readers of Haaretz are glad, that Public Security Minister Bar-Lev – and all those who preceded him and will follow him – does not have the authority to force the Israel Police, or the Israel Prison Service, to act in violation of the law, even if the law is not to the minister’s liking.

Omer Bar-Lev is the minister of public security.

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