Israel’s parliament has approved draconian measures against Jewish opponents of the government’s withdrawal policy without being allowed to read the document.
The government measures, said to remain in effect today, were approved by a special Knesset committee in late 2005 in a closed session. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who helped draft the proposals allowed only one parliamentarian to review the document, which enabled the detention of thousands of people, many of them without formal charges.
“The police have issued guidelines to the prosecutors and to the police prosecutors in regard to implementation of the Disengagement [withdrawal] plan and they said that these guidelines are secret,” Knesset member Michael Eitan, then chairman of the Constitution and Law Committee, said.
Eitan led the meeting of the committee during a secret session on August 7, 2005, on the eve of the Israeli expulsion of 16,000 Jews from the GazaStrip and northern West Bank. During the meeting, a transcript of which was recently obtained, Eitan acknowledged that the regulations proposed by Mazuz were draconian and violated civil rights.
“I received a complaint that the police have issued draconian guidelines to act in a certain way against demonstrators,” Eitan said. “And there is a prosecution policy that was especially tailored to repress the demonstrators and to harm their rights.”
In April 2005, Mazuz, who quashed a police investigation into corruption by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, issued a secret four-page guideline to police, prosecutors and judges regarding efforts to counter the campaign to block the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
The document included the use of administrative detentions, or imprisonment without charges, the treatment of minors as adults and the arrest of peaceful protesters.
“A fight that is ideologically-motivated causes all parties involved to become more radical,” Mazuz told the Israel Bar Association in May 2005. “This forces us to monitor the process on a daily basis.”
“The courts have demonstrated a stern approach and approved most of our requests for arrests, including arrests until the end of judicial proceedings,” Mazuz added.
Officials said the guidelines enabled the arrest and imprisonment of about 4,000 Jewish opponents of the Sharon government by September 2005. They said many of them were ordered to be held for months until trial.
“They arrested people collectively,” attorney Gadi Tal, who has represented anti-government defendants, said. “No judge checked to see the evidence up front. The worst cases were during the Disengagement: A minor who sat a week in jail and no indictment was issued against him. On the face of it, there was no evidence. From the outset they shouldn’t have been jailed.”
In August 2005, Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan told the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee that his office issued 634 indictments against withdrawal protesters. Nitzan said that more than 200 of them were against minors.
The State Prosecutor has acknowledged that authorities have operated in accordance to the secret guidelines. A spokeswoman said the guidelines remain classified nearly 18 months after the withdrawal.
“The state prosecutor’s office issued specific guidelines for internal use, which were not meant to be published,” Justice Ministry spokeswoman Ganit Ben-Moshe told Israeljustice.com. “The guidelines were presented in full before the subcommittee of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee. The guidelines were then presented with some paragraphs erased to the entire committee.”
But the transcript of the August 2005 session of the Knesset committee asserted that only Eitan had access to the redacted document. During the hearing, Eitan, who termed Mazuz’s secrecy requirements “ludicrous,” read portions of the proposed legislation to two other members.
At one point, Knesset member Roni Bar-On, today a minister in the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, suggested that the guidelines and their secrecy were undemocratic. Bar-On, who has yet to discuss the hearing in public, protested Mazuz’s insistence that nobody other than Eitan, who has refused to comment on the hearing, be allowed to see the document.
“Guidelines regarding indictments are secret?” Bar-On asked. “What could guidelines that concern indictments contain? It’s every person’s basic right to know what are the guidelines of the attorney general or any other decision-making body.”
“I have a systematic problem,” Bar-On added. “If they tell us that we Knesset members can’t be privy to material that the state prosecutor and police have seen, then I’m not willing to play the game. I don’t understand the purpose of our session. Is it to be able to say in due time that the constitution committee dealt with this?”
Still, the committee, which did not hold a vote, was recorded as approving the government guidelines. Eitan said the guidelines related to the prosecution of minors, police treatment of violent protesters and charging demonstration leaders with sedition.
“There were certainly issues that upset us,” Knesset member Naomi Blumenthal, who also attended the secret session, told Israeljustice.com.
In October 2005, Mazuz issued another set of guidelines on the treatment of those practicing civil disobedience against the government’s withdrawal policy. The document authorized the dismissal of charges against protesters who did not employ violence or minors without a prior criminal record.
But attorneys for the Jewish detainees said the prosecution has ignored the new guidelines and still operate according to the draconian regulations approved in August 2005. They said prosecutors continue to indict minors and others on trivial charges.
“The judges do not throw out cases on the basis of ‘deminimus,'” attorney Eytan Lehman, referring to the principle that the judicial system does not prosecute trivial charges, said. “They rely on the authority of the prosecutor and his judgement. There is no supervision in the attorney general’s office as to whether they abided by the guidelines or not.”