Britain’s attorney general on Monday expressed thinly veiled criticism at some of Israel’s policies relating to the Palestinians, particularly its expansive use of administrative detention.
Speaking at an event for British-Israelis in Tel Aviv, Dominic Grieve praised Israel for its free press and strong judicial system, but also mentioned some Israeli policies he finds unfavorable.
“This speech would not do justice to the open and frank friendship between our two countries without my referring to those issues where the international community does believe Israel fails, at times, to adhere to international law,” he said. Such issues include the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which “are almost universally regarded as illegal,” and the treatment of Palestinian minors in “military detention.”
“The list is well known and I don’t wish to labor the point,” Grieve told the attendees of a dinner organized by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association in Tel Aviv. “But as a friend, I have to say that you should be in no doubt about the difficulties and damage that these issues do cause to the respect in which Israel is held around the world. It’s precisely because Israel rightly prides itself for being a country governed according to the rule of law that these acts have such a negative impact and make it so much harder for friends of Israel to defend her.”
A member of the Conservative Party who is considered a good friend of Israel, Grieve praised the country’s democratic institutions, particularly the Supreme Court, for ensuring that the rule of law is upheld even in the face of strong opposition from the country’s political class.
But Grieve, who is a minister in the British government and the chief legal adviser to the Crown, seemed to imply that Israel too often breaches the law when fighting terrorism.
‘While it’s essential that we protect our citizens and assure their safety as their go about their everyday business, it’s equally essential that we preserve the rule of law and the freedoms which it protects’
“It’s to Israel’s enormous credit, however, that despite at times extreme provocation, it has always striven so strongly to remain a democracy and to apply the rule of law,” he said. “While it’s essential that we protect our citizens and assure their safety as they go about their everyday business, it’s equally essential that we preserve the rule of law and the freedoms which it protects.”
Grieve then spoke specifically about administrative detention — incarceration without trial — saying that the previous UK government sought to implement the controversial practice after being faced with terrorist threats, but that the House of Lords ruled it was in breach of fundamental human rights.
In previous decades, especially during the years dominated by terrorism in Northern Ireland, British authorities discovered that “one of most effective recruiting sergeants for terrorism was the policy of internment without trial,” Grieve said. “The sense of the injustice and despair which this bred led many to turn away from the path of peaceful political agitation and directly into the path of violence and hatred. And even when we stopped it, the reputation and stain it left behind took a long time to go away.
“At times we might, for the very best of motives, suppress human rights and the rule of law,” Grieve added, “and, in so doing, actually threaten those very principles we seek to preserve and don’t help ourselves as well as we might in doing it.”
Strictly speaking, administrative detention is legal if used as a preventative arrest, in advance of a crime. According to Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power may, “for imperative reasons of security,” subject people to internment.
But human rights groups routinely decry Israel’s use of the procedure, use of which has increased by 50 percent since last year.
Attorney Tamar Peleg-Sryck characterized it as “a closed circle, without a crack of transparency, which does not allow the prisoner to defend himself, excuses the prosecution from the burden of proof and prevents the judge from writing a well-argued verdict.”
At times, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention. At other times, such as during Menachem Begin’s tenure as prime minister, the number has dipped to as low as three. In April of 2012, Israel held over 315 Palestinians in administrative detention; as of October, the number has decreased to about 150.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.