Administrative detention, or detention without trial, isn’t merely seen in Israel as a legitimate tactic intended to fight terrorism; it has also become a routine tactic, which is used “in times of necessity” against both residents of the territories and Israeli citizens. The definition of “necessity” is left to the Shin Bet security service, which receives almost automatic backing from judges. Only in rare cases do the latter bother to scrutinize the “necessity” in depth or set conditions on employing an administrative detention order. Suspects and their lawyers aren’t allowed to see the classified material submitted to the court in support of such orders, nor are they entitled to demand that the ordinary laws of evidence be applied.
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The purpose of such detentions is to bypass the legal system, since whatever evidence investigators possess evidently isn’t sufficient for an indictment. It’s true that international conventions permit administrative detention, but they state clearly that this tactic can be used only in the most exceptional cases, during a state of emergency, when the nation faces an extremely severe threat.
What had been accepted with indifference as a suitable way of managing the occupation now seems to be spreading with alarming rapidity inside Israel as well. Earlier this year, Mohammed Ibrahim, an Israeli citizen, had the “privilege” of becoming the first Arab Israeli administrative detainee in many years. Last week, three other Arab Israelis from Wadi Ara were also slapped with administrative detention orders.
The orders signed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman permitted six months of detention, but the court later reduced one suspect’s detention to two months. The suspicions that led to the detention orders are unknown, but because none of the detainees belongs to any political organization, the prevailing assessment is that they were detained over something they posted on social media.
Israeli Arabs aren’t the only victims of this unacceptable administrative tactic. Various types of administrative restrictions are also imposed on Jews, ranging from full administrative detention, like that imposed on Elia Nativ of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, to the lesser administrative restrictions imposed on some 30 other Israeli Jews.
Administrative detention isn’t just a serious violation of the fundamental rights of both citizens of the state and residents of the occupied territories. It also reveals the security services’ fear that a fair legal system operating under binding legal rules wouldn’t grant appropriate backing to the war on terror. This is an unacceptable claim, which is liable to be repeated in the future in the battles against crime, traffic accidents and any other violation of the law that law enforcement agencies can’t cope with via proper legal procedures.
Administrative detention is no substitute for the law and the judicial process, and it must be abolished. Continuing to use it doesn’t help Israel’s security, and it undermines the democratic principles on which the country was founded.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel