The Israeli Knesset approved a new "Anti-terror Law" in its second and third readings on Wednesday and it is set to come into force on 1 November this year. A ministerial committee rejected more than 150 appeals against the bill, which was drafted by representatives of the Israeli intelligence services, army, anti-terror authority, justice ministry, governmental judicial advisor and others. However, the essence of the legislation is security.
The new law supersedes the Prevention of Terror Act 1948, the Prevention of Financing Terror Act 2005 and criminal procedures regarding the Detention of Suspects of Security Acts 2006. It also changes and modifies the articles of emergency orders which have been enforced since the British Mandate in 1945.
In defining terrorist crimes involving individuals and organisations, the law sets out court procedures and those for remand, detention and imprisonment; administrative orders regarding confiscation, inspection and imposing individual or collective restrictions; investigation proceedings; the power of Shabak (the internal security service) and its role in enforcing the law; property confiscation related to terrorism; and the blacklisting of individuals and organisations.
The danger of this law lies in Israel's attempt to connect all Palestinian actions aimed at liberation or an end to the occupation as "terrorism". It is an attempt to defame the resistance of the Palestinian people and undermine the growing international support for and solidarity with the Palestinians. The new law authorises government agencies to target political activists, especially those whose opinions or political acts differ from mainstream Israeli consensus. As such, it undermines the concept of free political debate and activism by those of certain political persuasions. This will harm the supporters of the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel because it infringes on their rights in terms of their public role, movements, political blocs and NGOs.
The most prominent threat to basic rights is made clearer in the hollow definitions of terminology used in the law, such as terrorist organisation, member of a terrorist organisation, act of terrorism, support of terrorist organisation and serving a terrorist organisation. The ambiguity of the definitions creates uncertainty regarding their explanation and implementation on the ground.
There is a big difference between an ordinary person saying that he wants to join a certain "terrorist organisation" and a real member of that organisation. The first might have uttered it under certain social or political pressure or threat. Criminalising a person over "information" that the security services knew about his plan to join a terrorist organisation is dangerous as he will not have to chance to defend himself.
The three-year prison term for anyone deemed to support a terrorist act or organisation either through praising it, raising its flag, posting its slogan or singing its national anthem were actually part of Israel's Penalty Law, but have been incorporated within the Anti-terror Law.
It is unbelievable that this law considers all relief, humanitarian, student, economic, social, religious, educational and political organisations which were banned under the 1945 Emergency Law as "terrorist organisations" and thus subject to all anti-terror penalties, especially as the core of their work is serving people. Under Israel's new legislation, the Islamic Movement, Land Movement, Prisoner Support Movement, Iqraa Movement, Human Relief Organisation and Hiraa for Qur'an Recitation, which had been banned previously, are in the same category as Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Nusra Front.
The most important aspects of the new law are:
- It brands more than 250 international and local organisations and groups as terrorists.
- Anyone who heads an alleged terrorist organisation faces 25-year imprisonment.
- Anyone who works with an alleged terrorist organisation faces 10-year imprisonment.
- Those suspected of carrying out terrorist acts can be investigated for 96 hours without being seen by a judge or any details being released about them and without judicial monitoring. The only authority with power over them is the Shabak.
- Suspects can be detained for up to 35 days without prior notice to the judicial advisor of the government; any detention after this period needs the agreement of the judicial advisor.
- The imprisonment of suspects can be renewed without having to go to court.
- Defence lawyers cannot meet more than one suspect in the same case, nor can suspects meet another lawyer from the same legal firm.
- People indicted of carrying out terrorist activities face a minimum 30-year sentence.
- Terrorism penalties do not reduce over time and are not subject to a statute of limitations.
- The court can consider accounts of any witnesses or statements from people not recognised by the court as witnesses.
- Regional police commanders are given the power to ban or put restrictions on any activities alleged to be serving terrorist organisations.
- The law affords additional authoritarian ways used in investigating suspects with "security violations" as it allows the use of a wide range of secret evidence in court. This undermines the arrival of prisoners in the judicial institution and weakens the lawyer's position regarding the demand for providing proof. It also undermines the chances where the suspect wants to defend himself or reply to the accusations with which he/she was indicted during administrative detention, when a certain organisation was branded as a terrorist body or when procedures of confiscating property of the suspect were carried out.
I believe that approving this law is a move to legalise authoritarianism, as anyone declared by the state to be undesirable will legally be classed as a terrorist. This law defines general and common orders that widens the criminal circle in an illogical and unacceptable way, where perfectly lawful individuals and organisations could be considered as terrorists even though they have no connection to terror, terrorists or terrorism whatsoever.
The Israeli authorities are being given wide-ranging power without any serious monitoring mechanism, enabling them to take strict measures against people and organisations without any genuine judicial oversight, merely on the basis of suspicion and without giving the suspects the minimum opportunity to defend themselves and their rights. This gives state institutions within Israel the power to interfere in political discourse and the freedom to form organisations and individual blocs. What is more important is that this law attempts to legalise the use of the originally illegal administration detention and other orders, by redefining them as "normal" laws unlike other emergency orders. In short, far from being an "anti-terror law", it has all the appearances of a "persecution and terror law".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.