Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday responded to a demand by 40 right-wing lawmakers for the release of two settlers suspected of ultranationalist crimes and held in administrative detention, saying the request to free them “gives a boost to terror.”
On Sunday, 40 MKs from the presumed incoming coalition wrote to Gantz demanding the release of Avraham Yair Yered, 19, and Elchai Carmeli, 21, from administrative detention.
The lawmakers who signed the initial letter came from all parties in the bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu — his Likud party, the far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties, and the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
The letter accused Gantz of “improper use of your powers, while trampling over and disrespecting the judicial process.”
It was signed by senior lawmakers including Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir and Noam leader Avi Maoz, as well as senior Likud MKs Miri Regev, Yuli Edelstein and Nir Barkat.
Likud MK Yoav Gallant, expected to serve as defense minister in the presumed incoming coalition, did not put his name to the letter.
Administrative detention is a practice whereby individuals can be held without charge practically indefinitely, and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
While it is rarely used against Jewish suspects, nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently held in custody under the practice, Gantz said.
“The use of the tool of administrative detention is done sparingly, when there is an out-of-the-ordinary recommendation from security and legal officials at the most senior level,” Gantz wrote in a letter released publicly in response to the lawmakers’ request.
“With the two cases in question, I was presented with intelligence material of unequivocal importance that indicates a high level of danger posed by the detainees to the security of the state and safety of the public,” the minister wrote.
Gantz decried the lawmakers for issuing their demand without having access to the sensitive intelligence involved in the decision.
“As elected officials, you have a responsibility. As long as I serve as defense minister, I will not allow political involvement that endangers the security of the State of Israel,” Gantz wrote.
The two Jewish Israelis held in administrative detention are both accused of anti-Arab crimes, with one of them additionally suspected of attacking Israeli troops.
Carmeli is reportedly suspected of attacking Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank town of Huwara, as well as additional attacks on Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
According to the Haaretz daily, Carmeli has previous convictions for racially motivated offenses, as well as for attacking participants in a pride parade in the West Bank city of Ariel last year.
Carmeli was reportedly until recently a resident of Givat Ronen, an illegal West Bank outpost inhabited by a number of so-called “hilltop youth,” ultranationalist settlers who illegally establish outposts and have been known to attack Palestinians and Israeli law enforcement officers.
Yered is reportedly suspected of involvement of an anti-Arab arson attack in the town of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem last month, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
According to the outlet, he is the brother of Elisha Yered, spokesman for Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Limor Son Har-Melech.
It was unclear what, if any, other crimes the two detained men were suspected of.
According to the right-wing news outlet Israel National News, the two suspects have been held under administrative detention orders issued by Gantz after courts said they should be released.
Israel says the policy of administrative detention helps keep dangerous terrorists off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence.
Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process. The detentions must be renewed by a military court every six months, and prisoners can remain in jail for years under the mechanism.
The practice is far more widely used for Palestinians. Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
The Hamoked rights group said in October that the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the West Bank in response to a spate of deadly terror against Israelis earlier this year.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.