Bennett signs off on rare administrative detention for Jewish terror suspect

Young far-right activist rearrested moments after he was released from prison due to lack of evidence; security official says suspect ‘a violent and radical figure’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Eliya Ben David. (Yair Oriel)
Eliya Ben David. (Yair Oriel)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed off on the administrative detention of a Jewish terror suspect moments after a court ordered his release from prison on Monday due to lack of evidence against him.

The measure has rarely been used against Jewish suspects, and the Honenu legal aid organization representing the 19-year-old said that their client is the only Jewish Israeli currently in administrative detention. The practice is far more common with Palestinians with 464 of them behind bars without due process as of January 2020, according to the B’Tselem rights group.

Administrative detention allows a terror suspect to be held indefinitely without trial in six-month renewable increments. While detainees can appeal the detention itself to the High Court of Justice or lower district courts, the suspects do not receive full trials or have access to the evidence against them.

While the suspect’s identity as well as details regarding the allegations against him were initially barred from publication, the Lod District Court agreed to Honenu’s request to reveal certain details. Late Monday night, their client was identified as Eliya Ben David, who is suspected of hurling a rock at an oncoming vehicle, which struck a Palestinian man in the head, moderately injuring him.

Ben David had initially been nabbed last Sunday by police in the West Bank who transferred him to the Shin Bet security service’s custody for questioning, a Honenu spokesman said. During that time, he was barred from meeting with an attorney — a tactic sometimes employed by law enforcement while probing what it says are urgent security cases.

Defense Naftali Bennett during a Knesset debate on recent escalation in Gaza, February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But after more than a week in prison, the Lod District Court ordered Ben David released due to lack of evidence against him. In her ruling, Judge Ido Druyan-Gamliel criticized law enforcement’s handling of the case, writing “we cannot carry on as if nothing happened here” and ordered that the minutes from the hearing be transferred to the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office, as well as to the Shin Bet and the police’s Judea and Samaria (West Bank) District’s Major Crimes Unit for an internal investigation.

Nevertheless, the teen was picked up before he even left the court house after an administrative detention order signed by Bennett that will allow the jailing of Ben David for 30 days without having to bring him before a judge or present evidence against him.

A security official speaking on the condition of anonymity called the defendant “a violent and radical figure suspected of recent involvement in violent activity against Palestinians lately.”

“Administrative detention is a preventive tool, not a punitive one, which is used only in cases where a threat cannot be prevented in other ways,” the official said in a statement, adding that the currently sensitive security situation in the West Bank requires such tactics.

Recent weeks have seen a surge in West Bank violence following the publication of the Trump peace plan.

Adi Keidar, the Honenu attorney representing Ben David, blasted Bennett for signing off on an order robbing his client of his rights despite the court’s conclusion that the evidence against him was insufficient. Keidar said in a statement that “the law enforcement system had reached a new low.”

Illustrative: Right-wing activists clash with police outside a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, on the matter of the Jewish youth suspects in a major security probe whose details are under gag order on December 31, 2018. (Flash90)

Later Monday night, some 20 far-right activists demonstrated outside Bennett’s home in Ra’anana, demanding that the defense minister withdraw his approval for the administrative detention. Police arrested three of the protesters, according to a Honenu spokesman, who said that several right-wing lawmakers had reached out to Bennett in an effort to convince him to change his mind.

Ben David comes from a well-known Orthodox family in the northern town of Nof Hagalil where his father serves as a principal of an elementary school.

This followed several other rare arrests in Jewish terror cases, which largely go unsolved.

Last month, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against a far-right Jewish activist Dor Oved, charging him with attempting to carry out a hate attack in an Arab Israeli town.

Oved took a bus from his native town of Mevasseret Zion northwest of Jerusalem to the neighboring village of Abu Ghosh late on the night of January 4, according to the charge sheet. The suspect was carrying a bag with a knife, gasoline, a lighter, spray paint, pepper spray and gloves, the indictment said, specifying that Oved had planned on “damaging [Abu Ghosh] residents’ property due to his racist ideological motive of hostility toward the Arab public.”

A police car patrolling the area spotted Oved, who raised their suspicions as he tried to get rid of the knife in his possession. He was arrested at the scene and taken in for interrogation, during which he was barred from meeting with an attorney for a week.

A week earlier, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court released to house arrest three Israeli far-right suspects in a similar security-related case. The ruling came several days after Judge Ophir Katavi-Rivlin slammed the conduct of the Shin Bet over tactics it used to interrogate two of the suspects in the Jewish terror case, including sleep deprivation and midnight interrogations. The Shin Bet denied using illegal measures.

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