Gallant refuses to answer Ben Gvir call seeking answers on detained Huwara suspects

Far-right minister turns to Netanyahu after hitting dead end with defense minister as he demanded to know why alleged extremists were being held without charge

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant refused to answer a phone call from National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir regarding two suspects put in administrative detention over the ransacking of a Palestinian town, his spokesperson confirmed Sunday.

On Thursday, Gallant signed off on orders keeping two suspected Jewish extremists behind bars after a court ordered authorities to release the pair along with five others arrested following a violent settler rampage through the Palestinian town of Huwara on February 26.

Ben Gvir, an ultranationalist politician with ideological ties to some of the West Bank’s most radical settlers, phoned Gallant on Friday to seek clarifications regarding the two suspects sent to administrative detention, according to a report by the Kan public broadcaster.

The controversial practice allows individuals to be held without charge practically indefinitely, and the evidence against them to be withheld. While administrative detention is rarely used against Jewish suspects, nearly 1,000 Palestinians are currently held in custody under the practice.

According to Kan, Gallant refused to answer the phone, forcing Ben Gvir to turn to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gallant had complained to Ben Gvir about their conversations being leaked to the press.

A spokesperson for Gallant confirmed the Kan report and said it had not been leaked by the defense minister.

Ben Gvir responded to Kan with a rant against opposition leader Yair Lapid, whom he accused of “harming the police and now sparking anarchist revolts.”

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The administrative detention orders against the pair, 29-year-old David Chai Chasdai, and a 17-year-old minor, are currently valid for four months, until July 1.

The two are accused of being among the settler extremists who rioted in the Palestinian town of Huwara the night of February 26 in retribution for a terror attack that killed two Israelis earlier that day in the same town. Extremists burned homes, cars, and storefronts, and assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances.

According to the Honenu legal aid organization representing the suspects, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered police to free all seven suspects who were being held following their arrest Wednesday, due to a lack of evidence of their involvement in the rioting.

Gallant’s decision to put the two suspects in administrative detention followed recommendations by the Shin Bet security agency.

A senior security official speaking to Channel 12 news claimed the pair were “planning and had carried out operations against IDF forces. [They] are extremely dangerous.” According to Haaretz, a senior security source, possibly the same one, said they were involved in initiating the riots.

Burned cars are seen through a broken window in the town of Huwara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Gallant and Ben Gvir have sparred over the division of powers, with the far-right Otzma Yehudit leader attempting to expand his ministry’s authority beyond the police to gendarmes units serving in the West Bank that are traditionally under the aegis of the military.

There are currently four Jewish terror suspects being held in administrative detention, according to Kan. The number represents the most held at one time since the period after the 1994 massacre of Palestinians at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the station said.

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