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Israelis Don't Care Their Country Throws People in Jail Without Trial

Tamar Kaplansky
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Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian prisoner who went on a hunger strike for more than a hundred days until his release in 2020.
Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian prisoner who went on a hunger strike for more than a hundred days until his release in 2020.Credit: Yanir Gontz
Tamar Kaplansky

As of the time of writing, the name and other details about the intelligence officer who died in a military prison early May 17 are still barred from publication, as are the circumstances of his death and some of the charges he faced. The information can be found on social media and on foreign websites, along with a touching picture of him and a myriad of speculations and conspiracy theories.

Something else is also happening on social networks, online and off: rage. How is it that a person can be made to disappear this way in Israel? How can it be that the army jails a person for nine months for offenses whose nature still isn’t clear, but that did not include espionage, treason or contact with a foreign agent? How could the charges be hidden even from his family, which was forced into silence, and his lawyer chosen from a list dictated by the accusers (that is, the Israeli Defense Forces) – and all this when the legal proceedings against him were not yet completed?

What justifies nine months in solitary confinement, death under unknown circumstances in a cell with security cameras and a secretive burial in a civilian cemetery, as if he’d never existed? His friends and family say his online presence was eliminated nearly completely and that they have not been given the results of his autopsy, despite their request. How could such a thing happen in a democratic state, the outraged public asks on social media. Where are we, Argentina?

The anger is understandable and justified. There’s no reason to arrest someone and jail him like that, since even the worst criminal on earth deserves a fair trial. What is less understandable and justified is the surprise that has seized the Israeli Jewish public, which seems to have woken up one fine morning to discover where they’re living; like Sleeping Beauty waking from her slumber full of sweet dreams of democracy.

In other words, good morning to all: Are you new here? According to figures from the human rights organization Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, as of June 2021, Israel is holding 495 Palestinians in so-called administrative detention – detention without trial. The right to due process – or even to family visits – is denied them, sometimes for months on. Under administrative detention, there is no indictment, no full disclosure of the allegations – or evidence, if there is any – and there is no judgment. The detention order may be extended every few months, indefinitely. I cannot fathom how this is justified in a democratic state, but in Israel it is justified using the magic term, “security threat.”

Mohammed Allaan, for example, a lawyer from the Nablus area of the West Bank, was arrested in November 2015. He was released in September 2016 after a 67-day hunger strike, rearrested on an administrative order and was then quietly released again in November 2016. Why was he arrested? Nobody knows. Why was he released? It’s not clear. If, as the state tried to hint, the reason for his arrest was involvement with Islamic Jihad, he could have been charged, but this didn’t happen. Just as he was arrested arbitrarily, he was released after a year.

Similarly, Maher al-Akhras was released in November 2020 after a 103-day hunger strike. Akhras too was held without charges and released with little explanation. So it was with Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar, who was held without an indictment and released after 20 months.

It is possible that all of these people are very dangerous, but that can only be determined by a trial. The problem is that when we’re talking about Palestinians, the rule is “guilty until proven innocent,” and all the critical arguments – which have been made intensively in the case of the death of the intelligence officer – melt away when the “security threat” card is pulled out, the two words whose magic power over the Jewish public cannot be denied.

Despite this, the cynicism behind these words is occasionally revealed in all its glory. This was the case of Heba al-Labadi, 30, a Jordanian citizen who was arrested in August 2019 at the Allenby crossing en route to a wedding in Jenin and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service on “suspicion of involvement in serious security offenses.” After a month, during which Labadi says she was interrogated under harsh conditions while protesting her innocence. She was not charged with any offenses, but remained in custody after an administrative detention order was issued against her. She responded by going on a hunger strike that lasted more than 40 days, and was eventually released.

It then emerged that Israel had been trying to use her as a bargaining chip. Channel 13 News reported that, according to senior Jordanian officials, Israel had proposed freeing Labadi and another Jordanian administrative detainee in exchange for Jordan’s agreeing to extend Israel’s lease of agricultural land from the Hashemite kingdom. The security threat? Gone, if it had ever existed. Both detainees were eventually released without explanation, the same way they’d been jailed. Was there a security threat? Was it over? Who knows, and it no longer matters.

So if the public doesn’t care when the state throws people in jail without evidence, without charges and without a trial, how can we complain about the terrifying silence surrounding the circumstances of the imprisonment and death of the Israeli intelligence officer?

We needn’t go as far as Argentina. Welcome to Israel, friends, where human rights are merely a suggestion.

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