Israel intends to detain without trial citizens suspected of political violence against Palestinians, government officials said on Sunday following a lethal West Bank arson attack blamed on Jewish militants.
The extension to Israelis of so-called “administration detention,” a practice commonly applied to Palestinian militant suspects and condemned internationally, laid bare authorities’ frustration at failing to curb Jewish ultra-nationalist attacks.
Friday’s torching of a Palestinian home killed a toddler and seriously hurt his parents and brother, causing an outcry abroad and vows by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to crack down on what he deemed “terrorism” by “criminals in our nation.”
There was no claim of responsibility for the arson at Duma village, in the occupied West Bank. Graffiti in Hebrew reading “revenge” daubed at the site was consistent with past vandalism and other hate crimes by bands of young Jewish zealots targeting Arabs, Christians, peace activists or Israeli army property.
With no arrests yet made for the arson, some Israeli commentators on Sunday questioned the resolve of security services which, when responding to Palestinian attacks, often round up suspects en masse as part of accelerated investigations.
Such detainees are sometimes held without trial for months, a measure Israel says is required to prevent further violence in the absence of sufficient evidence to prosecute, or where going to court would risk exposing the identity of secret informants.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who oversees law and order in the West Bank, would now subject any Israelis arrested for the Duma arson or similar incidents in the future to “administrative detention,” his spokesman said.
“As always, each case of administrative detention will have to be approved by the courts, but by invoking this the minister is taking action consistent with his effort to exact the full measure of the law against these people,” the spokesman said.
Officials with Israel’s Shin Bet security service and Justice Ministry said they were aware of government plans to seek administrative detention for Israeli citizens.
According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 5,442 Palestinians were in detention without trial as of June. The measure, which foreign critics see as a blow to due process of the law, has seldom been imposed by Israel against its own citizens.
“To the best of my knowledge, there have been no instances of Israelis being held in administrative detention in recent years,” said B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.
Israeli officials say the Jewish zealots elude discovery by operating in small networks that are hard for informants to penetrate, avoiding electronic communications that might be monitored, and clamming up when detained for interrogation.