The Guardian 26 October, 2005

Racist new laws in Gaza

Human rights groups are demanding the cancellation of a bill which proposes new and harsher criminal procedure laws to be applied to individuals suspected of security offences based solely on their nationality. The bill, entitled the "Criminal Law Procedures Bill (Powers of Implementation Special Directives for Investigating Security Violations Perpetrated by Non-Citizens)", was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legal Affairs on October 9. Recommended by the General Security Services (GSS), the Bill would create a two-track criminal procedure law governing investigation, interrogation and detention one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.

The Bill targets Palestinians from the Gaza Strip where military rule was cancelled following the withdrawal of the Israeli military. The cancellation of military rule in these areas has automatically led to the cancellation of all military procedures and orders, including those governing criminal acts. The GSS requested that the Israeli Government introduce a separate criminal procedure law applicable to Palestinians, which would allow the GSS to carry out investigations and detentions in the same way as it was able to do during the military rule of the occupation.

Under the Bill, "non-Israeli" nationals suspected of security offences could be investigated continuously for 96 hours, without being brought before a judge. Under the Israeli criminal procedure law which would remain in effect for Israeli citizens the maximum permitted period is 48 hours. Maximum periods of time applicable to extension of detention orders would also be lengthened. Under the Bill, a court could extend a detention for 20 days at a time, compared with 15 days under Israeli detention law, and the Attorney-General can approve of the continuation of the extension of the detention after the passage of 40 days, as opposed to only 30 days under Israeli detention law.

Likewise, in contrast to Israeli detention law, under the Bill, a detained individual can have his or her detention extended without even appearing before a court.

The Bill also gives a Justice of the Supreme Court the authority to prevent the detained individual from meeting with an attorney to 50 days, based on a request by the Attorney-General. By contrast, under Israeli criminal procedure law, the president of a District Court may deny access to legal counsel for a period of only 21 days, and the individual may appeal such a decision, which is not possible under the Bill.

In a letter from Adalah the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel Attorney Abeer Baker argued that the aim of the Bill is to re-legislate military orders in the form of Israeli laws applicable only to Palestinians, which gravely violates the rights of detained Palestinians to equality in legal procedures and to receive a fair trial. The revocation of military rule means the revocation of all the associated arbitrary principles, and it is therefore impermissible to re-formulate them as civilian laws. Approving this Bill is tantamount to duplicating the principles upon which the military regime was based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in spite of its abundant shortcomings, in Israeli law.

Adalah argued that the Bill as a whole is unconstitutional and violates international human rights law, which stipulates that detainees be treated in accordance with the principle of equality and civilian laws regardless of their national belonging or nationality. The text of the Bill clearly shows that the goal of the GSS is to delay judicial review of the detention of Palestinians and their meetings with lawyers for as long as possible, which increases the possibility of detained individuals being tortured and heightens the fear that they will be interrogated by force in order to unjustly expedite an indictment.

Consequently, Adalah emphasised that the Bill is fundamentally distorted and dangerous, and must therefore be annulled in its entirety and not presented before the Knesset for voting.

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