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Israel could use detention without trial in bid to stem Arab crime — reports

The controversial tool, known as administrative detention, has long been used against terror suspects; move reportedly supported by police chief, but opposed by many others

In this handout photo from September 24, 2021, a police officer walks with a suspect who was arrested in a series of raids against organized crime elements in Arab and Druze towns across northern Israel. (Israel Police)
In this handout photo from September 24, 2021, a police officer walks with a suspect who was arrested in a series of raids against organized crime elements in Arab and Druze towns across northern Israel. (Israel Police)

In an attempt to battle the ongoing violence and crime in Israel’s Arab community, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai is personally pushing to allow the use of controversial, far-reaching measures used only by the Shin Bet security service, according to reports on Sunday.

Hebrew-language television networks said Shabtai wants the police to be allowed to use administrative detentions — a controversial measure commonly deployed against Palestinian terror suspects in the West Bank, as well as extremist settlers — against Arab Israelis.

However, Israel has not previously employed the measure to fight crime.

Israeli security officials have defended the measure in the context of Palestinian unrest, arguing that in some cases, issuing an indictment could force them to reveal sensitive security information. Palestinians and international rights groups, however, have criticized it, contending that Israel abuses it.

“In an emergency, emergency measures must be taken,” a law enforcement official told Channel 12 news.

Separately, Shabtai is also seeking authorization to deny detainees access to a lawyer, Channel 12 reported. Police officials told the network that such sanctions would only be used in extreme cases, with the approval of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the Knesset, on September 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Kan public broadcaster cited sources saying that under the emerging plan, police would arrest murder suspects — even if they do not have enough evidence to charge them — along with people whom they suspect of planning a murder.

The report added that the new plan was being advanced by government and law enforcement officials, though some cabinet ministers are fiercely opposed. It said that Mandelblit and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut participated in the debate.

According to Haaretz, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Yoav Segalovitz — who was tapped as the head of a government task force aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing crime — did not participate in the discussions surrounding the use of administrative detentions.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also according to Haaretz, the rest of Israel’s security establishment is not supportive of Shabtai’s desire to implement such a move, adding that it has many legal issues.

“It has no place in a democracy,” Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted on Sunday. “I oppose administrative detentions in the occupied territories. We will not allow them to leak into Israel,” he added.

The government has already come under fire for proposing to enlist the Shin Bet domestic security service in law enforcement activities. It is not yet clear to what extent the agency would be used to curb the ongoing violence.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man was shot dead on Saturday evening in his home in the northern village of Ilut, apparently as the result of stray gunfire, becoming the 97th apparent homicide victim in the Arab community in 2021, according to a tally by the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit.

The organization said that 80 of those killed this year were victims of gun violence.

Arab Israelis protest rising violence, organized crime and recent killings in their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum in northern Israel. October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Violent crime has risen to record levels in Arab communities in recent years.

Authorities have vowed to devote more resources to battle crime in Arab locales, after a series of recent shootings triggered the online #Arab_Lives_Matter campaign to protest the alleged lack of police action.

According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in Arab communities.

Arab Israelis blame the police, which they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women.

Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence is the fruit of decades of state neglect. Over half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line. Their towns and cities often have crumbling infrastructure, poor public services and few job prospects, leading some young people to collaborate with organized crime.

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