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Israel admits: Administrative detention unnecessary

By Michael Omer-Man

Less than three weeks after at least 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli prisons launched a widespread hunger strike, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Thursday made several astounding admissions regarding Israel’s use of administrative detention. In private meetings with security officials, Aharonovitch called for reducing Israel’s use of the practice, applying it “only if there is a need and not in all cases,” according to a Haaretz report.

He was in effect admitting that the practice is being used even when it is not necessary, if one accepts that it is ever necessary. Furthermore he seemed to be conceding that Israel uses administrative detention instead of carrying out thorough criminal or intelligence investigations.

In a presentation to Israel’s Defense Ministry, Justice Ministry, the IDF, Shin Bet and Prison Service, Aharonovitch recommended that authorities “exhaust investigations and evidence collections” in order to allow the application of criminal proceedings against Palestinian arrestees, a principle that shouldn’t need advocating in a democracy.

The official public explanation of the use of administrative detention – the practice of arresting and holding persons without trial or informing them of what crimes they are suspected – is that doing so in open court could reveal sensitive intelligence collection methods and the identities of informants. Administrative detentions are usually secret orders for six-month periods of incarceration, which can be renewed indefinitely. In some cases, prisoners have been held without charge or trial for several years.

Earlier this year, two Palestinian detainees, Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, were released from custody after holding prolonged hunger strikes in protest of their administrative detentions. As a result of intensive social media activist campaigns by young Palestinians in Palestine, Israel and overseas, the mainstream media eventually began covering the case and Israeli authorities cut a deal to release the two.

The current large-scale hunger strike, which is largely inspired by the successes of Adnan and Shalabi, has garnered even more international media and government attention. On Wednesday, UN Middle East Envoy Robert Serry said he was “deeply troubled” by the health status of two of the hunger strikers, who have refused food for over 67 days.

The same day, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk said he was appalled by human rights violations against Palestinians in Israeli prisons, slamming the use of administrative detention.

The international attention is weighing on Israeli officials. According to Haaretz, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials “estimate that several European Union states [might] begin filing protests, especially around the issue of administrative detentions, if the hunger strikes persist.”

But while international pressure might lead Israel to alter its course of action toward a small number of individuals, it is the hunger strike itself — one of the most powerful forms of non-violent protests — that has thrust the issue into the spotlight and which may well lead to a wider change in policy.

Saying as much, Aharonovitch told security officials that while administrative detention is an important tool to aid security, it should only be used “if there is a need.” The question is, if administrative detention is not always needed, why is it being used so widely?

Michael Omer-Man is a Jaffa-based journalist and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @ConflictedLandThis post was first published on his blog at The Jerusalem Post.


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    1. jackdetention without trial is used against jews in israel also

      detention without trial is used against jews in israel also

      Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      What international pressure there is has surfaced late. That Aharonovitch waited for it to say the obvious is the story of our political lives these days.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I would not belittle this victory. It will not change the overall incareration rates of Palestinians, nor will it provide transparcy to proceedings in whatever court procedures there are or may be. Yet unbelievable resolve among prisoners, coupled with essential reporting of these, is beginning to force a change in some State discourse. It is a small victory, and some may die for it. But it is real. There has already been overspill to the High Court’s authority, showing in relief how “constitutiional” process is a form of politial brinkmanship in Israel, or at least can be so, as here. I believe the Court will remember how it has been treated these last few days.
      There is something equally amazing. I have no doubt that some of those on hugner strike have, in the past, felt satisfaction upon hearing of Israeli deaths in this conflct; basically, Jewish deaths. They had resolve for their corporate ends, as does the Israeli State and most of its polity. But these prisoners turned their resolve into a new form of conflict when all options seemed gone. Fasting, for a few, perhaps unto death, is a resolve to no longer abide the world they are imprisoned in, and I mean imprisoned beyond actual incareration. They have refused the world and, in two cases, forced it to change. For those two, and perhaps more soon, that is a change beyond all measure. They have taken the resolve of conflict and made something new of it. And in that there is a gift of hope to all who hope for some progress in this ever battle.
      I may disagree with some, maybe much, of what these fasters say. But I will respect them, and will acknowledge the gift they have made under the ultimate distress. If we all can not do that, what bridge can ever be built?

      Reply to Comment