Israel’s parliament adopted a sweeping law on Wednesday that critics warn further criminalizes Palestinian political activity by expanding what it defines as “terrorism.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Israel has subjected a Palestinian journalist and prisoners’ rights worker from Jerusalem to more than a month of secret, abusive interrogation.
Israel has also renewed the detention without charge of a Palestinian circus performer who works with children with learning difficulties.
The so-called counterterrorism bill was first proposed in 2011 but was stalled by the Knesset’s constitution, law and justice committee.
Last September, Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked revived the bill, stating there was a need to “upgrade Israel’s legal abilities” to fight what she calls terrorism.
After the law was adopted on Wednesday, Shaked invoked the massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people, including the gunman, dead.
She drew a link with last week’s shooting attack allegedly by two Palestinians in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis.
“The terrorist attacks in Orlando and Tel Aviv show more than ever that there is no reason for terrorism. There are excuses. It can only be vanquished through appropriate punishment and deterrence,” Shaked said.
The new law turns many of the draconian “emergency” regulations that have been in use in present-day Israel since 1948 into permanent law. Those regulations were adopted from British colonial rulers who introduced them in Palestine in the 1940s.
Knesset constitution committee chair Nissan Slomiansky declared Wednesday “an Israeli Independence Day.”
“Sixty regulations from the days of King George are being abolished, and we’re applying Israeli law in their stead,” Slomiansky said.
But Palestinian and civil rights groups have denounced the law as a measure that promises to further curtail Palestinian rights.
Last September, Palestinian legal rights group Adalah said the law would threaten to “seriously escalate the level of repression and intimidation targeted against the political activity of Palestinian citizens of Israel through the criminalization of political, cultural and social relationships between them and the rest of the Palestinian people.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has said “the counterterrorism bill contains sweeping provisions, which broaden the scope of criminality and threaten to turn law-abiding citizens and organizations (with no connection whatsoever to violent acts) into ‘terrorists.’”
The bill was backed by all political parties in the Knesset, except the leftist Zionist party Meretz and the Joint Arab List.
The law expands the definition of terrorism to include failure to prevent a terrorist act and “passive membership” in what Israel defines as a terrorist organization.
It will allow the government to list Palestinian charities with any affiliation to Hamas as “terrorist” organizations and impose a three-year sentence for those who publicly express support for any “terrorist group.”
Such “support” could include waving a flag or singing a song associated with the group.
The law enshrines administrative detention, the practice of jailing a person indefinitely without charge or trial, as well as barring individuals from leaving the country.
It significantly hampers individual rights by allowing interrogators to question a person for 48 hours before meeting a judge, and expands surveillance powers. The law also permits secret “intelligence” testimony in trials.
It also gives the defense minister the power to confiscate a “terrorist” organization’s property without judicial oversight.
By imposing such measures within present-day Israel, Israeli law inches closer to resembling the Israeli military occupation regime that rules over millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
While administrative detention is already widely used in most of the occupied West Bank, where there are currently more than 700 Palestinians imprisoned without charge, Israel has used it less frequently in occupied East Jerusalem or in present-day Israel.
But prisoners’ rights group Addameer said this week that Jerusalem resident Hasan Safadi, a 24-year-old journalist and the group’s media coordinator, has been held by Israeli forces since 1 May under a gag order.
According to Addameer, Safadi was violently abused for 40 days, during which Israeli interrogators subjected him to sleep deprivation, stress positions, threats and deprivation of adequate food. He was denied access to an attorney for ten days and his family has not been allowed to see him.
Safadi was arrested while returning from Tunisia where he had attended a conference on regional human rights and social issues.
On 10 June, after more than a month in prison, an Israeli court issued a six-month administrative detention order under a variety of vague pretexts, including that Safadi is affiliated with an “illegal organization” and has visited an “enemy state” – Lebanon.
A year without charge
Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank on 13 June, an Israeli military court ordered a 23-year-old Palestinian circus performer to remain under administrative detention for an additional six months.
Mohammad Abu Sakha was first arrested on 14 December 2015 and issued a six-month administrative detention order a week later.
According to Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross has told Abu Sakha’s parents that he is now in Megiddo prison, in northern Israel, though his family have not been allowed to visit him.
Abu Sakha, who teaches at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, and works with children with learning difficulties, has not been charged with any offense, but is now slated to spend more than a year in an Israeli prison.
This brief video released by the school in January features one of his disabled students speaking about Abu Sakha:
Abu Sakha has told lawyers that even during his interrogation he was not accused of any specific acts.
Earlier this year, an Israeli military spokesperson told Al Jazeera that Abu Sakha was arrested “due to the danger he posed to the security of the region” based on “confidential information.”
Amnesty International is urging people to contact Israeli authorities to demand that Abu Sakha and all other administrative detainees be released immediately or charged “with a recognizable criminal offense” and be given a fair and prompt trial.