Detainment Without Trial Is a Slippery Slope

So, the Shin Bet has introduced administrative detainment for Jewish extremists. What are the odds on it extending to Arabs from Galilee next?

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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'Hilltop youth' in the West Bank, February 2012.
'Hilltop youth' in the West Bank, February 2012.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

Administrative detention has returned once again, but the current muscle-flexing by the Shin Bet security service will cost us dearly. The scenario envisaged by extremist Jewish settlers (the so-called “hilltop youth”) has coming true. Now, settlers have to decide whose side they are on: that of the law or the hooligans. They can’t make up their minds, because ultimately they belong to the same camp as the unruly ones – outside the law.

On the left, thankfully, there was a rush to condemn the use of detention without trial. MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) gave us some hope with her emotional statement defending the concept of innocence. It is clear that support for administrative detentions only reinforces the illegality, usually reined in, within the law enforcement system. Only occasionally do these agencies receive a push from the public to go all out.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that these detentions remove three or four of these “royalist” Jewish extremists from the scene. However, once their cells are vacated, we’ll be left with the public legitimization to similarly arrest, with the help of questionable evidence, activists from the Islamic Movement, for example. “If there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt,” the Shin Bet operative will say to the judge with a smile, sending the Arab activist from Galilee to jail.

It’s more important to examine what the Shin Bet means when it talks about the difficulties it is encountering. According to its own words, it is able to arrest people based on evidence that would not be admissible in a court of law. This is what it does to Palestinians in the occupied territories, and we have no idea of knowing who among the multitudes of those convicted by a military court – that parody of a court – actually committed what they were convicted of.

What else can we learn about the difficulties facing the Shin Bet? That it has no intelligence sources among the extremist settlers, since it can’t reach the fringe elements – the poor, the hungry, the parents of sick children, extorting them while promising some alleviation of their living hell, in exchange for evidence that is inadmissible, since “we cannot divulge our intelligence sources.” This is how it has worked among the Palestinians for the last 48 years.

Other than denouncing administrative detention, what else must the left do as it stands at this crucial crossroad after the burning of a family in Duma? Only this: those referred to as “hilltop youth” are illegal residents in the territories who must be evacuated. There is no need to bend democratic principles in order to make this political demand. They are there because the settlers assist them, because the government supports their presence there, because the army needs them.

Clearly, the army isn’t in the territories to protect the occupied population. It’s there to protect the settlers. Contrary to the myth that was fostered by the Zionist left in the past, the army needs the settlers. They participate in the control process, separate Palestinian communities, seize land and settle at strategic points. The army needs the settlers, since the latter have no legal restraints holding them back. No one documents their actions except, in some cases, the cameras of B’Tselem (hence the fury directed at this moderate and important NGO).

This is why the left must strengthen its arguments: the Jewish extremists must become the focus of demands for political justice. This is not a call for disobeying the law, merely for its enforcement. This is not a call for violation of human rights, only for their enactment. The demand for evacuating all settlements must wait, albeit with muted anger, for peace talks and international pressure. All the well-orchestrated fuss about the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005 is part of the ongoing drive to bolster the right’s position: continued colonization. Anyone on the left who already feels pity for “generations of settlers who grew up in the territories with government support” should remember this: In Algeria and Kenya, there were similar generations of settlers, always supported by governments. That’s how colonialism works. And so it is with decolonization.

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