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Israel's Use--Abuse--of Detention

September 18, 1988

Since last December, when the Palestinian intifada began in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government has tried different approaches to quell the uprising--curfews, clubs, deportations, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Probably the most successful control technique is "administrative detention." Today at least 2,790 Palestinians, ranging from young rock throwers to middle-aged lawyers and businessmen, are being held in prison for up to six months--sometimes longer--without charges, without trial.

The two major political parties, Labor and Likud, support the detention policy, and Israelis point out that--compared to alternative methods of restoring order--detention is a minimal use of force and the least damaging to individual human rights. Israeli military commanders say that their goal is to reduce the violence to a tolerable level so that a political solution will be possible.

Ironically, the British used administrative detention against Jewish nationalists in British-controlled Palestine in the mid 1940s. Individuals who were working to create the state of Israel were locked up without judicial review or trial. The objections raised by Jews then about extra-legal detention are the same as those voiced today by Palestinians: When a person is arrested, he has a right to know what the charge is against him, a right to challenge or refute the evidence supporting the charge, and a right to appear before a judge with an attorney. Without these standards of due process, the prisoner is placed in an impossible situation.

The Israeli government now sees the primary threat of the uprising as the creation of Palestinian institutions and services that will serve as an alternative to the military government. The Israelis claim to issue administrative-detention orders only when a "person's arrest is necessary for the area's security and public safety." But in the last month, since King Hussein's announcement that Jordan was giving up its claim to the West Bank, it appears that increasing numbers of Palestinians are being placed in detention for political reasons, not violent acts. Recently the U.S. government and many Israelis protested the arrest and detention of Faisal Husseini, a prominent Palestinian moderate and head of the Arab Studies Center in Jerusalem who has called for peace negotiations with Israel.

Ideally, Israel should end the use of extralegal detention in the occupied territories, and should respect the basic legal rights of those arrested. At a minimum, the Israelis must not abuse their own interpretation of administrative detention. This means that they must stop imprisoning Palestinian leaders--editors, lawyers, doctors, teachers--who are involved in political activities but not violent demonstrations.

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