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High Court back longer detention periods for Palestinians than for Israelis

By Revital Hovel

[8 April 2014] - The High Court of Justice ruled on Sunday that the state is within its rights to hold Palestinians detainees for up to 96 hours before bringing them before a judge, compared to just 24 hours for Israeli citizens, calling the discrimination in this regard "reasonable and proportionate."

The High Court was ruling on a petition filed in 2010 by attorney Lila Margalit on behalf of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. That petition was combined with a second petition, submitted the same year by attorneys Smadar Ben Natan and Avigdor Feldman on behalf of the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs.
Before the petitions were filed, Palestinians in the West Bank could be held for eight days after they were arrested before being brought before a judge, compared to just 24 hours for Israeli citizens. After the filing, the Justice Ministry and the Shin Bet security service announced the reduction of the former period to 96 hours. In its ruling on Sunday, the High Court said it was rejecting the petition because of the change.
The organizations argued in their petitions that Israelis in the West Bank who are suspected of security-related offenses and Palestinians in similar circumstances should be treated equally. They argued that long periods of detention violate detainees' rights to freedom, to due process and equality, and protested against discriminating between Palestinians and Israelis in this regard.
Despite of its ruling, the court did however say that it was not comfortable with fact that whereas under Israeli law, the maximum period that a defendant may remain in custody for the duration of legal proceedings is nine months, unless extended by the Supreme Court, in the West Bank the maximum is two years, and it applies to both minors and adults.
In this regard as well, the state changed its policy in the wake of the High Court petitions. It announced that it was reducing these differences, so that for security-related offenses detention for the duration of proceedings would be limited to 18 months for adults and one year for minors. The High Court ordered the state to revisit these issues and to submit a notice of change by September.
In response to the petition, the state argued that the circumstances in the West Bank were different than in Israel, and thus required different policies. It pointed to logistical difficulties in bringing Palestinians to trial, due to restrictions on movement, as well as in carrying out investigations in the territories.
"In security investigations the individuals being investigated act out of nationalist and ideological motivations and questioning them is more difficult. It is only natural that more time is needed before questioning results in preliminary evidence to support intelligence information," the state's response said, in part.
In writing the verdict, Justice Edna Arbel wrote, "On one hand, due process of law is a fundamental requirement for guaranteeing the proportionality and legality of detention for the purposes of questioning, and in principle bringing a suspect before a judge should not be seen as an obstacle but rather as a fundamental condition for effective and legal detention for the purposes of questioning."
"There is no doubt that the state came a long way and significantly reduced the detention period for West Bank Palestinians," she added.
Margalit acknowledged that the petition led to a reduction of the discriminatory difference in detention periods but said that Palestinians are still held for longer periods than are Israelis in the territories.