Israel Starts to Realize It's Too Easy to Jail Palestinians Without Trial

Nearly 600 Palestinians are currently being held under administrative detention.

The supposedly legal procedure known as "administrative detention" is meant, as everyone knows, to save the security forces from having to reveal to the accused the evidence against them, and from having to face their attorneys in court.

For years it was customary for the commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank to peruse confidential material and sign an order for six months of administrative detention. In many cases, orders were extended over a number of years.

Even though the procedure is supposed to be used only in emergency cases, and even though the High Court of Justice repeatedly mentions the need to be meticulous about every point in this procedure that severely limits the right to freedom, there are nearly 600 Palestinians being held under administrative detention. So it is no surprise that the regional commander could not cope with the plethora of cases.

A brochure on the edicts, orders and appointments in Judea and Samaria from September reveals that GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni authorized six officers to issue administrative detention orders - the military adjutancy officer, the logistics officer, the intelligence officer, the munitions officer, the engineering corps officer and the medical officer.

Between signing a prescription and a medical certificate, the medical officer can also sign a detention order.

Attorney Tamar Peleg of the Center for the Defense of the Individual revealed that the officer, Col. Dudu Dagan, has signed a number of administrative detention orders. Other orders bear the signature of the intelligence officer, Col. Ronen Cohen, and the adjutancy officer, Col. Ettie Rosen.

Dan Yakir, the legal adviser to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, wrote to the legal adviser of the Judea and Samaria region, Col. Sharon Afek, that any order issued by these officials is invalid for two reasons.

First, even though the commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank is the GOC Central Command, there is no institutional and legal link between these two positions.

This means the IDF commander in Judea and Samaria is not authorized to appoint officers who are not part of the IDF in Judea and Samaria.

Second - and most importantly - it is highly unreasonable to appoint someone to a position if he does not have operational responsibility for security in the area. This constitutes yet another low point regarding the intolerable ease with which detention orders are issued in the West Bank.

The IDF Spokesman said in response that "in accordance with legislation in the Judea and Samaria region, an IDF officer appointed by the GOC Central Command as a 'military officer' is authorized to issue administrative detention orders.

Issuing of the orders is done based on material presented to the commander and after a legal examination of this material has been carried out. The legislation does not provide details on what the demands are for authorizing someone as a 'military officer'."

The spokesman added that authorization is given to staff officers of colonel and above who are familiar with the security situation in Judea and Samaria and are aware of current threats.

Even though the IDF believes it is right in this matter, it appears that someone realizes that the new arrangement is not particularly intelligent.

The spokesman said that "in view of the approaches that have recently been made on this issue, and bearing in mind that many officers have the required authorization, the authorization of the above-mentioned staff officers is being reconsidered, and it is possible that the authorizations will be canceled in the near future."

One can only welcome the fact that the defense establishment treats human rights organizations in a serious manner. Actually, not every defense official takes human rights volunteers seriously. Ask Dr. Yaakov Arad, who heads the emergency ward at Josephtal Hospital in Eilat. A few days ago, Arad responded to an appeal from Physicians for Human Rights and sent a letter to the defense minister.

The letter requested Ehud Barak to permit five sick people to leave the Gaza Strip to get emergency medical treatment, some of it lifesaving.

They have been prevented for months from entering Israel by the authorities at the Erez crossing and the Shin Bet security service.

Arad wrote to the defense minister that after thoroughly reviewing the cases he agreed with the conclusions of the Israeli medical experts, most of whom have excellent reputations. Arad added that in most cases the medical terminology played down the seriousness of the patients' condition.

In two cases, there is a clear and immediate threat to the patients' lives, he said. "I cannot imagine how any of them, as evil and base as they may be, can constitute a security threat of any kind in their present medical condition," Arad wrote. "The very act of refusal arouses in me feelings of anger and shame as an Israeli citizen, a son of the Jewish people and a doctor," he added.

'Security and the good of the country'

The response was not long in coming. Elia Eshel, assistant to the head of the defense minister's staff, wrote: "One must praise all those who activate you, the doctors, as well as all those 'Israel lovers' throughout the world from Amnesty and the other 'peace' organizations. The command of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories is aware of all the appeals without exception! All of them receive treatment in a fitting manner. Whenever it is right and necessary and fitting to approve their entry into Israel, this is done in direct cooperation with the professional bodies."

Arad did not accept this general response and sent another letter to the minister's office.

"Even in the back of my feverish mind I am not able to find the slightest reasonable explanation for the decisions of the coordinator of government activities," he wrote. "It is more reasonable that another agenda is hiding behind the heading of 'security considerations'. And as for the hints - I am a doctor in Israel, the director of a department in a hospital, and an officer in the reserves after a very long period of service in the paratroops - I am not 'activated' by anyone nor am I part of any kind of conspiracy. I do not need any sort of confirmation about the extent of my patriotism."

Another letter of reproach

Arad expressed the hope that the terminology used by the member of the minister's office was not an expression of Barak's feelings or policy. He requested that his letter be shown to the minister "so that he too can learn about the quality of the filters that act in his name."

However Arad simply received yet another letter of reproach from the assistant. "The leading and central agenda of the state and the civil service that serves it is security and the good of the country," Eshel wrote. "If you felt I was hinting, I wish to apologize - I merely wanted to update you that in effect, de facto, you turned into someone who was activated and you were blinded, not out of bad intentions. My terminology is indeed my own opinion."

Asked for a response, the minister's office said: "There is no reason to bother the minister with letters of this kind. The minister's office sends detailed replies to letters from the public, with the necessary dedication and attention, and it is to be hoped that other ministerial offices do likewise."