Administrative detention is one of the most offensive measures a regime can take against a person’s civil rights. In Israel, any military officer in the territories can have a person jailed almost indefinitely and without judicial oversight. Administrative detention procedures do not require the detainee to be informed of the charges against him, attorneys cannot defend him, and the evidence against him is not open to judicial review.
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While international law recognizes administrative detention, it restricts its use, limiting it to cases involving a danger to public safety for which there is no other prevention. Israel, however, uses it excessively in the territories, mainly to protect sources or prevent the exposure of Shin Bet security service methods.
The current hunger strike by Palestinian administrative detainees, which has gone on for five weeks and has resulted in some 70 prisoners being hospitalized, obligates security officials and the government to reconsider the use of this tool. Last December Israel decided to release detainee Samer Issawi, who had hunger striking on-and-off for eight months to the point that his life was at risk, but it seems that no lessons were learned from his arrest and release. The current collective hunger strike has become a power struggle between the detainees and the security forces, who want to “prove” to the detainees that they will not be able to dictate Israel’s detention policy.
Do the security forces need a prisoner to die before reexamining the policy? Is there a need for international pressure, which is indeed starting to build on this issue, before Israel can understand the limitations of administrative detention?
Israel likes to point to the use the United States made of administrative detention at Guantanamo Bay to justify its own use of the procedure. But the United States conducted a lengthy public and legal struggle over the issue, at the end of which new guidelines were issued regarding the detainees’ rights. In Israel there is no such debate, since administrative detention is regarded as a legitimate measure that’s not much different than a regular arrest, and there is a paradoxical belief that the person’s arrest is indicative of the level of risk he poses, thus there is no need to prove it.
The Shin Bet, Israel Prison Service and defense minister must reconsider this detention policy, examine each case carefully, prosecute those it has evidence against and move to quickly release those against whom evidence is lacking. Israel must adhere to the international community’s accepted interpretation of administrative detention and stop using it wholesale to perpetuate the occupation.