Imagine being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and being taken into custody. Then finding yourself in an Israeli jail for six months without charge or trial. After six months, the administrative order signed by a military commander is renewed.
An Israeli military judge is presented a secret file which neither you nor your lawyer are allowed to see. Within minutes your nightmare is extended for another six months.
And this same thing happens again and again. During this entire period you are held without charge or trial, based on the antiquated British 1945 Emergency Regulations that the current rulers of Israel were so critical of that they compared it to Nazi laws.
The above is not a fictional story and it does not take place in North Korea or a third world dictatorship.
At present, 186 Palestinian doctors, parliamentarians and teenagers are held without charge or trial by Israel, a country that calls itself the Middle East’s only democracy.
Administrative detention is rejected by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International as well as Israeli human rights groups such as Btselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, in addition to Palestinian human rights organisations such as Al Haq and the Independent Centre for Citizen’s rights.
It is a violation of international humanitarian law as well as of the basic tenets of justice that demand the right of a defendant to be charged and tried in court. Palestinian prisoners have regularly protested such illegal and inhumane detention, most often by going on extensive hunger strikes with simultaneous protest campaigns in Palestine and around the world.
These efforts have sometimes made Israel not renew some of the most egregious cases, such as when a person had been detained continuously for five or six consecutive six-month terms. But within months of being free, the same persons are sometimes picked up again and the process starts anew without any concern for this violation of international humanitarian law.
Last month, on April 26, most administrative detainees went on hunger strike. A campaign began outside the prison cell in support of these unjustified prolonged detentions.
Two years ago, Adnan Khader’s campaign used his hashtag to rally international support and that effort succeeded in forcing the Israelis not to renew his and a few others’ detention as part of a deal with prisoners to stop their hunger strike. Palestinians and their supporters are again using Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #waterandsalt as well as #stopAD, to raise awareness about this Israeli form of punishment.
Ironically the country that produced the emergency regulations which is Israel’s legal basis for the extended detention denounced the Israeli abuse of these order.
The United Kingdom, in its most recent human rights report, called on Israel to curtail the use of administrative detention as a tool of punishment. “Administrative detention should only be used when absolutely necessary for reasons of security, and as a preventive, not punitive, measure.” Palestinians believe firmly that these arrests are a form of punishment.
The fact that Israel is unable to charge these individuals in its military courts, which are not known for their even handedness towards the Palestinians, is the best proof that the Israelis are using the antiquated emergency laws to punish individuals for a wide assortment of reasons.
The administrative detention scheme is often a weapon used by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. Many Palestinians complain that this is one of the favourite weapons used by the Shin Bet to recruit agents from among Palestinians.
If the individuals they are targeting refuse to become agents, they threaten and then carry out their threats to hold them indefinitely in jail using the administrative detention orders.
This is why it is the Shin Bet that presents at the six-month intervals the secret files which cannot be challenged or questioned by the prisoners or their lawyers, allowing the Israeli intelligence agents to fabricate any fact to justify the detention.
The time has come for the world community, especially Israel’s Western allies, to ask it to stop its continued abuse of Palestinian rights.
The Israeli Knesset passed a law to ban the use of the emergency regulations in Israel. It is time that this law be also enforced on the Israeli army and intelligence in the occupied territories.
The author is a veteran Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.