In about-face, Bennett orders Jewish terror suspect be freed
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In about-face, Bennett orders Jewish terror suspect be freed

Following far-right outcry, defense minister agrees to release 19-year-old Eliya Ben David, hours after signing off on administrative detention

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered that a Jewish terror suspect be released from administrative detention on Tuesday, canceling the extraordinary measure that he had signed off on less than 24 hours earlier following an outcry by far-right lawmakers and activists.

A statement from his office said Bennett had ordered a review of the case after being made privy to the initial court decision to release 19-year-old Eliya Ben David on Monday.

“After thorough scrutiny, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett will reduce the administrative detention order against Ben David to [an order] restricting entry to Judea and Samaria [West Bank] only, pending approval from the head of the IDF’s Central Command” the statement added, leaving final say on the matter with Major General Nadav Padan.

Ben David was first arrested nine days ago on suspicions that he had hurled a rock at an oncoming vehicle, which struck a Palestinian man in the head, moderately injuring him. But on Monday, the Lod District Court ordered Ben David released due to lack of evidence against him.

In his 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 security service and the police’s Judea and Samaria (West Bank) District’s Major Crimes Unit for an internal investigation.

Ben David did not manage to make it out of the courtroom before Shin Bet officers arrived with an administrative detention order signed by Bennett in hand to place him back into custody.

Eliya Ben David. (Yair Oriel)

The measure has rarely been used against Jewish suspects, and the Honenu legal aid organization representing the 19-year-old said 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.

Defending the order, a security official said Monday that Ben David is “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.

But far-right activists were unimpressed, protesting outside Bennett’s house in Ra’anana and blasting him for robbing a Jewish Israeli of due process. Statements of condemnation against the defense minister’s decision were issued by members of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party but also from MK Moti Yogev, who is in Bennett’s Yamina alliance.

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.

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