Gallant rejects 50 lawmakers’ call to free Huwara riot suspects held without charge

Defense minister says rampage was ‘mark of shame’ and ‘we must not encourage terror,’ after ministers and MKs demand end to administrative detention of 4 Jewish suspects

Minister of Defence Yoav Galant arrives for a government meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Defence Yoav Galant arrives for a government meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant rejected a request to release four Jewish settlers under administrative detention Tuesday, after 50 ministers, deputy ministers and coalition MKs signed a letter demanding they be freed.

Two of the detainees are accused of taking part in last month’s deadly settler rampage through the Palestinian town of Huwara, while the other two have been held since last year under administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold suspects without charging them or allowing them access to counsel or the evidence against them.

The letter, sent Tuesday and signed by nine ministers and 41 deputy ministers and MKs, called for Gallant to end the practice of arresting settlers and holding them without due process.

The letter was initiated by Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, and was signed by her party leader, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, as well as other ministers including Shlomo Karhi, Idit Silman and May Golan of Likud, and dozens of lawmakers.

Gallant responded that the arrest warrants were issued lawfully at the request of the Shin Bet based on “significant intelligence material testifying to the detainees’ high dangerousness.”

He noted that two of the detainees, 29-year-old David Chai Chasdai and an unnamed minor, not only took part in the Huwara rampage but also planned additional violent and “indiscriminate” acts that “endangered the lives of many residents.”

They also have “a rich past of violent acts against security forces,” and previous efforts have failed to deter them, Gallant said. They were arrested shortly after the Huwara attack.

The other two detainees were named in the letter as Avraham Yair Yered, 19, and Elchai Carmeli, 21, detained last year for alleged attacks on Arabs, including in a previous incident in Huwara.

Settlers look on as cars and homes burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

Gallant said that while he admires the settler movement, “this case deals with individuals who chose to act against the law, don’t represent the settler movement, and are actively harming it.”

The letter, signed by representatives from each coalition faction, complained that the Defense Ministry was treating settlers as “enemies of the state” and running roughshod over their rights “even though we are not talking about extreme cases that would justify outrage and the violation of basic human rights.”

“We believe that the use of administrative detention, without due process, should be reserved for very extreme cases, like those we know from the actions of our murderous enemies among Israel’s haters,” the letter read.

Gallant responded that the February ransacking of Huwara by settler vigilantes was “a watershed moment and a mark of shame for our society.”

“I recommend that those who signed the letter trust the Shin Bet recommendations and the defense minister’s decisions, which are made based solely on security-related and intelligence considerations. We must not encourage terror of any kind,” he said.

Israeli brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv were gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist while driving through Huwara, south of Nablus, on February 26; hours later, hundreds of settlers went on a destructive rampage through the town, burning homes, cars, and storefronts, and assaulting Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries and the death of a Palestinian man in unclear circumstances. Palestinians say he was shot.

The IDF general in charge of troops in the West Bank said the vigilante settlers had carried out a “pogrom”

Last week the Central District Court reduced the administrative detention of the two individuals held on suspicion of involvement in the riot.

The detention of a 17-year-old was shortened from four months to less than two, according to the Honenu organization, a right-wing legal aid group. The minor’s name is barred from publication.

It came a day after the same court shortened the detention order of the second suspect, 29-year-old David Chai Chasdai, from four months to three.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers speak with Israeli settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara near Nablus on February 27, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Gallant had signed off on orders keeping the two suspected Jewish extremists behind bars after a court ordered authorities to release the pair along with five others arrested over the Huwara rampage.

His comments to the lawmakers echoed a response from former defense minister Benny Gantz after 40 lawmakers from the then-nascent coalition sent him a letter in December demanding an end to administrative detention against Israeli Jews following the arrests of Yered and Carmeli.

Yered is reportedly the brother of Son Har-Melech’s spokesman Elisha Yered.

Israel currently holds over 900 Palestinians in administrative detention. Cases of Israelis being held under the mechanism are much more rare.

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