On Feb. 25, Channel 10 revealed that a judge and a state investigator had coordinated via text messaging to extend the detention of suspects arrested in connection with Case 4000, the investigation involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relations with the telecommunications tycoon Shaul Elovitch. For many, the revelation immediately brought to mind the findings of a recent Amnesty International report, “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 2017/2018.”
In fact, it is hard to ignore the similarities between Amnesty’s report — which determined that Israel is holding hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention for long periods without trial — and the ease with which arrests were made in Israel by Israel Police in the Netanyahu-Elovitch case. The “storm of arrests” resulting from Case 4000 has finally put this item on Israel’s public agenda.
Shlomi Eldar, in a Feb. 26 article for Al-Monitor, detailed the main points of the Amnesty report almost at the same time as the “storm of text messages” were sending shockwaves through Israel's legal system, leaving Israelis stunned. Most Israelis are typically apathetic to the human rights of Palestinian detainees, who are held for extended periods without trial, in many cases without being told what information the state might have against them. These methods, practiced for years in Israel’s backyard, on the West Bank, have now come to light as also being used within the Green Line. While the situation in Israel is not quite as severe, it is nonetheless disturbing.
Channel 10’s reporting on the judge and the investigator in Case 4000 revealed that they colluded using WhatsApp. Journalists and politicians alike were left aghast by the revelation that Justice Ronit Poznansky-Katz had apparently reached an agreement with an Israeli Security Authority attorney, Eran Shacham-Shavit, over how many days the arrest of three suspects would be extended before they were even brought before her to present their defense. That this is such a sensitive and high-profile case, which is expected to lead to the investigation of the prime minister himself, made the news all the more alarming. The investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs are already underway, replete with his claiming that he is being persecuted by the police. The texts between the judge and the investigator appear to prove that the way the investigation is being conducted is not so squeaky clean after all.
Putting aside Netanyahu and the investigations into his affairs for a moment, the arrest of suspects in Case 4000 bought to the public's attention the intolerable ease with which arrests are made in Israel. It also shone a spotlight on the harsh conditions in which civilians are held in jails, even though most of them will be released from custody without being indicted. Netanyahu’s confidant Nir Hefetz and Elovitch, former majority holder in Bezeq, described the degrading conditions in which they are being held, including flea-infested mattresses and being allowed little sleep. Their descriptions left the impression that the police were trying to break them in an effort to convince them to turn state witnesses against the prime minister.
The two men have now been held in detention for almost 10 days. On the evening of Feb. 26, Justice Alaa Masarwa responded positively to a police request to extend the remand of Hefetz and Elovitch by six more days. Masarwa, brought in to replace Poznansky-Katz after the scandal broke, was convinced that releasing the two men at this stage could be damaging to the investigation. The extension is exceptionally long for white-collar crimes, and Hefetz and Elovitch quickly appealed to the district court, claiming it to be illegal and an infringement of justice.
The message scandal is particularly troubling and could be part of a larger, systemic problem. This is why it must not be ignored. The whole issue of extended detentions in Israel deserves to be investigated, in depth. The current iteration of the Detention Law (1996) lists three main reasons for detention: interference with an investigation, posing a threat to the security of the nation or individuals, and for the purposes of the investigation, that is, when the police want to engage in activities on behalf of the investigation that they would not be able to do if a suspect were free. This was done out of consideration for the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, which requires the state to protect the people's rights to life, physical security and dignity. This basic law also holds that the state cannot infringe on people’s freedom without just cause.
According to press reports, Hefetz and Elovitch have not admitted to the charges against them, with Hefetz invoking his right to remain silent. As such, it can only be hoped that the secret findings of the investigation, which were brought before the judge, justify this kind of extended detention. Elovitch’s lawyer claims that his client was humiliated and threatened during his interrogation and told that he would end his life as a supermarket security guard. Thus, it appears that there has been effort exerted in the interrogation room to flip the men by applying pressure to break them emotionally. Detention for this purpose conflicts with the Detention Law, which does not include “activities to break the suspect” as grounds for detention.
Neither Hefetz nor Elovitch pose a danger to the public or to national security. As for interfering with the investigation, it looks like they had been given ample time to do so, if they so desired, before they were arrested. They were well aware that they were being investigated. Furthermore, the police had apparently been eavesdropping on them for the past three months.
Police data show that the number of arrests in Israel has increased significantly over the past 20 years. In 1998, there were about 38,000 arrests made, with the number skyrocketing to 62,000 in 2015. One reason for this is the police using arrest and detention as a deterrent. What is even more disconcerting is that in two-thirds of these cases, there was no indictment, and the case was closed. In other words, a person could be taken into detention and denied his or her freedom. One could be imprisoned in the harshest conditions, with poor sanitation. In fact, the entire situation could cause emotional damage and leave a person traumatized. If coordination of detentions is systemic, then judges are automatically granting extensions of detention without first investigating whether there is just cause for arrests.
It was known that Palestinian detainees are not given access to all the evidence against them. As it turns out, detainees in Israeli courts sometimes face a similar situation. How does a democratic state whose legal code glorifies the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty attack the essential freedoms of its citizens day after day, without good cause? The answer should be sought in the pervasive influence of 50 years of occupation, the nature of Shin Bet interrogations, and the total disregard for people’s freedom and basic human rights. All of this has apparently made its way into police interrogation rooms in Israel.
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