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Crushing Palestinian protest through detention without trial

Why has Israel remained quiet in the face of increasingly harsh international criticism of its legal policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank?

By now, many in the international community are aware of a Palestinian baker from the northern West Bank who embarked on a 66-day hunger strike in protest against detention by Israeli forces.

Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old father of two and spokesman for the militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, was arrested in a night raid on his house in December and taken to an Israeli interrogation facility where he claims to have been beaten, humiliated and had his family threatened. After several days of interrogation, he was placed in a military jail as a detainee of the Israeli army.

Adnan immediately went on hunger strike in protest against his detention without trial or charges, known in Israel as administrative detention. Based on an emergency order dating back to the British Mandate, Israel began to use such orders in earnest after its takeover of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

On January 8 Adnan was given a four-month administrative detention order, which can be renewed indefinitely, after a military judge reviewed classified information against him. Evidence and allegations have not been made available to Adnan or his lawyer, a requirement of the administrative detention order designed to protect classified sources and collaborators.

The Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem said there was an increase in the number of Palestinian administrative detainees in 2011. Israel now has more than 300 detainees who have not been charged. At the height of the second intifada, the numbers of Palestinian administrative detainees reached the thousands.

The use of administrative detention slowed as violence subsided and after heavy criticism of similar United States procedures at Guantanamo Bay. The US model of capturing suspected terrorists and using forceful interrogation methods and detention without trial or charge is remarkably similar to the orders Israel began using in the 1960s.

The comparison of Israel’s control over Palestinians and apartheid South Africa has become commonplace. Yet concrete comparisons between the two countries are often ignored. South Africa’s 1967 Terrorism Act allowed the government to detain persons suspected of terrorism for indefinite periods without charge or trial.

Under the Act, the government did not have to inform the public where or even who the detainees were. Unlike Israel’s administrative detention, apartheid South Africa’s legalisation basically allowed the state to “disappear” detainees.

Detention without trial and administrative detention are not the same, but the effect is similar: the imprisonment of any person suspected of participating in armed or unarmed rebellion against the prevailing system of separation.

Both employ the logic of pre-emptive security at the expense of civil rights. Large numbers of innocent people are denied habeas corpus and persuaded to give false confessions through torture and the prospect of remaining in jail indefinitely without charge.

Just as the international media began to pay attention to Adnan’s hunger strike (attention that was in large part a result of a social networking campaign), Israel announced last week that Adnan’s detention would not be renewed and he would be released in April. For now, he will not be charged, nor will any evidence pertaining to his incarceration be released.

Israeli officials have repeatedly claimed that, as a spokesperson of Islamic Jihad, Adnan is a known terrorist and a danger to Israeli civilians and state security. If so, why agree to release him at the end of his detention? Why has Israel remained quiet in the face of increasingly harsh international criticism of its legal policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank?

The main goal of apartheid detention without trial was to control the non-white population by creating a fa├žade of justice. Using the language of pre-emptive security, apartheid South Africa created legal provisions that served the regime’s efforts to crush any protest. There is a growing body of evidence that Israel’s military-legal system in the West Bank serves a similar purpose.

Joseph Dana is a journalist based in the West Bank

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