Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Administrative detention: facts and figures

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Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz


Australian Jewish News - 19 July 2012

A petition calling on Australian Jews to denounce Israel's administrative detention policy has apparently been circulating for some weeks without attracting much attention. The handful of signatories, including most of the regular anti-Israel crowd, claim that "the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike" highlights the policy - not seeming to have realised that a deal to end the strike had been reached more than a month before the petition was launched.

The petition reflects propaganda from the likes of Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Thaer Halahleh. A prominent leader of the hunger strike, Halahleh claimed to be striking because "no human can accept being in jail for one hour without any charge or reason". Halahleh and his fellow hunger strikers ended up backing down in exchange for more TV, free tertiary education and visits from Gaza - administrative detention notwithstanding. This effectively restored some privileges that had been removed in 2009 in response to the treatment of then-Hamas captive Gilad Shalit.

According to the Israeli government, only six of the striking prisoners were actually held under administrative detention. Some reports cited the overblown figure of 300, which actually represents the total number of prisoners held under administrative detention. This is of course a small fraction of the almost 4,500 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. According to B'tselem - an Israeli NGO that is not exactly known for defending Israeli policies - there are currently no minors being held in administrative detention. This is in complete contrast to the petition, which repeatedly accuses Israel of detaining minors under the program - another example of the petitioners' tenuous grasp of the facts.

While it is true that those prisoners under administrative detention have not been formally charged, the claim that they were held "without reason" is simply false. Administrative detention is only employed where there is specific information that an individual is involved in preparing or planning an attack and the only way to avert the attack is to detain them. No individual can be detained without the approval of a judge who has reviewed all the evidence, and detention is subject to judicial review every six months.

While confidential information is not disclosed to prisoners, this is only to protect the lives of informants. Meanwhile, prisoners are always informed why they are being detained, provided with access to legal representation, and permitted to examine any evidence against them that is not classified. They can, and frequently do, appeal their detention to the Israeli High Court of Justice.

In Israel, administrative detention is employed solely as a last resort to prevent an impending attack. Many countries, Australia included, also have laws permitting such practises where necessary. By necessity, Israel's methods are harsh. However they have almost completely halted attacks from the West Bank in recent years - saving thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives. While small numbers of those detained in the past have been minors, it is an unfortunate reality that persons under 18 are just as capable of perpetrating terror as anyone else.

The petitioners ask what could possibly justify detention without formal charge. The answer is saving lives. If they truly wish to bring this policy to an end, perhaps they should join Australia's Jewish community in unequivocally condemning terrorism and calling on groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to renounce violence. If there was no longer terrorism against Israel, administrative detention would cease to have a purpose.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz is Policy Analyst and Social Media Coordinator at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.


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