Gallant orders four Israelis to be held without charge over West Bank riots

Suspects put in administrative detention for six months were allegedly responsible for torching Palestinian homes and cars last week; far-right cabinet ministers decry move

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (C) at the scene, the day after a terror attack near the West Bank settlement of Eli, on June 21, 2023 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (C) at the scene, the day after a terror attack near the West Bank settlement of Eli, on June 21, 2023 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signed administrative detention orders on Wednesday to hold four Jewish extremists involved in recent attacks against Palestinians without charges, in line with recommendations from the Shin Bet security service.

The four are currently imprisoned, the Defense Ministry confirmed. Administrative detention enables them to be held in custody without charges for renewable six-month periods, practically indefinitely.

The measure, which is rarely used against Jewish Israelis, comes amid mounting pressure on Israel to curb a recent spate of vigilante attacks on Palestinian villages, which followed a Palestinian terror shooting that killed four Israelis last week.

A senior defense official said that “the four detainees have been involved for years in violent incidents, both open and secret.”

“In the past, they were detained and restraining orders were issued, but despite this, they have continued with their actions,” the official said, alleging that the four were behind the torching of several Palestinian homes and vehicles last week.

Administrative detention can be employed when the military or Shin Bet can provide evidence of suspects posing an immediate danger, but detainees are not granted access to the often-classified evidence against them. While it is rarely used against Jewish suspects, nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently held in custody under the practice.

Palestinians inspect the damage to a Palestinian house after it was set on fire by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya on June 21, 2023 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The controversial practice is one of the few tools available to the defense minister to combat Jewish extremism in the West Bank. As Israel has extended much of its laws over Israeli citizens within the territory, criminal matters largely fall under the purview of the police and the civilian judicial system.

Palestinians, by contrast, are subject to martial law.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of the far right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party slammed the administrative detentions as disproportionate, saying that while the police and Shin Bet have not cracked down on crime in the Arab community, “boys suspected of setting fire to property — a crime worthy of condemnation and strict police treatment —  immediately get the Shin Bet and administrative detentions.”

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party and is also an independent minister in the Defense Ministry, said that “the use of administrative detentions against settlers is democratically and morally wrong.”

Smotrich implied that Gallant signed the orders in order to exact revenge, tweeting that: “When its purpose is not to prevent future risk but to settle accounts with the detainees due to past acts attributed to them, it is also completely illegal.”

He insisted that “lawbreakers must be dealt with through criminal law,” and appeared to attack the police, saying that “if only the systems were more professional and less lazy, they would be more than enough.”

Gallant has held several closed-door meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben Gvir, and the military chief of staff since riots, vandalism, and violence by Jewish Israelis against West Bank Palestinians restarted last week, on the heels of the Palestinian shooting attack outside the settlement of Eli.

Gallant was said to express his intention during those meetings to take action against settler-led violence.

Ben Gvir, a far-right settlement advocate who ran a network of extremist activists before joining politics, reportedly blocked the coalition from condemning settler actions after a Tuesday meeting with Netanyahu and Gallant. Instead, he called for a harsher crackdown on Palestinians.

Ben Gvir also reportedly accused the other participants of blowing the issue out of proportion, calling settler vigilantes “sweet kids” who are turned into adults by being put in administrative detention.

“I got my [detention] order at 18. You’re turning snot-nosed kids into heroes,” he was quoted as saying by the Kan public broadcaster.

Israeli security forces argue with Israeli settlers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya on the day that Jewish extremists set fire to homes and vehicles in the town, June 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the wake of the terror attack on June 20, hundreds of settlers rampaged in Palestinian towns and villages for five days, setting fire to homes, cars, and even opening fire in some cases. One Palestinian was killed Wednesday in unclear circumstances.

One riot in the village of Turmus Ayya, during which the Palestinian was killed and 12 others were injured, involved arson, vandalism, and live fire. Earlier this year there was a brutal rampage in the Palestinian village of Huwara, also following a deadly Palestinian terror attack.

The violence has received international condemnation and reignited a nationwide conversation on Jewish extremism and the proper role of police and security establishment in its countering.

Reserve general Eitan Dangot, who retired in 2014 as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, slammed the continued violence as a political failure bearing security consequences.

“This is a time of emergency,” Dangot told Army Radio on Monday.

Honenu, an organization that defends far-right activists, alleged that no detention orders had been received by settlers, Shin Bet detainees, or their lawyers, and accused Gallant of “playing media games on the backs of the settlers” instead of “worrying about the security of the citizens of Israel.”

“The minister’s conduct adds insult to injury. Blood has not yet dried from the terrible terror attacks that the settler community experienced just a few days ago, and instead of providing security, the minister chose to critically infringe upon human rights. Shame,” the statement continued.

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