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Israel defence minister wants Palestinians crossing Gaza fence detained as ‘illegal combatants’ 

Palestinians gather at the Separation Fence as 'Great March of Return' demonstrations continue on Friday 20 December in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians gather near the Gaza fence during the 'Great March of Return' protest on 20 December 2019 in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Israel’s Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has told security officials that he wants to treat Palestinians who cross through the Gaza Strip perimeter fence as “illegal combatants”, reported Haaretz.

According to the paper, “Bennett seeks to use them in the event of future negotiations over the return of Israeli prisoners or dead soldiers.”

The move would mean such Palestinians can be detained without charge “indefinitely”.

Haaretz reported that “officials in the defence establishment were shocked by Bennett’s demand, arguing that such a decision would have major significance, not just in terms of international law.”

Most Palestinians to whom this would apply have sought to leave Gaza “out of economic distress”, seeking to find work, or simply looking to get arrested. Many so-called “infiltrators” are children.

READ: Israel killed 149 Palestinians, including 33 children in 2019, NGO

According to Haaretz, in a recent case involving charges against four young “infiltrators”, the indictment “stated they came here intending to be arrested without being returned to Gaza”.

As the report explains, “an illegal combatant in Israeli law is defined as a person who participates in hostile acts against the state, directly or indirectly, or as a person who identifies with a unit committing hostile acts, one that is not affiliated with any state or organisation.”

“Such affiliation gives a detainee the status of a prisoner of war under international law, as detailed in the Geneva Convention,” Haaretz added. “The new status would apply to a Gazan, unaffiliated with any organisation, who crosses into Israel carrying a knife.”

The legislation that Bennett has in mind would enable an officer to deem a Palestinian to be an “illegal combatant”, a status confirmed a week later by a more senior officer. Then, “once every six months, the detainee will be brought before a district court judge for judicial review.”

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As Haaretz explained, “international law ceased recognizing laws pertaining to so-called illegal combatants, based on the view that there is no third category beyond that of combatants or prisoners of war.”

“When civilians engage in combat, they must be charged under the criminal laws of the country holding them,” and thus “detention without charges in such circumstances will be monitored under international law.”

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