Israel's top court refuses to release mentally-ill man from detention

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The Supreme Court refused on Monday to order the release from administrative detention an Israeli Arab from Nazareth, despite documents showing that he is suffering from mental illness and had twice been hospitalized for his psychiatric condition.

The court upheld a decision by the Nazareth District Court that the man remain in custody without trial for threatening under questioning by investigators to commit a terrorist attack and after posting nationalistic Facebook messages.

The state suggested shortly before the Supreme Court hearing that a prison service psychiatrist examine the man, but his lawyer refused, saying that should have been done when he was first arrested. Justice Anat Baron ordered the state to arrange a psychiatric evaluation as soon as possible.

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But she said that she denied the man’s in part based on classified information and the opinion of the Shin Bet security service, both of which were given to her out of the presence of a defense attorney. She was convinced, she said, that the detention was necessary because the man was “patently” dangerous. She rejected as “unfounded” the defense’s claim that there was no evidence of his dangerousness aside from what he told his interrogators.

As for the claim that someone who is mentally ill should not be detained without a psychiatrist’s opinion regarding his statements to his interrogators, Baron wrote, “It’s impossible to accept the claim that an evaluation is needed to determine how credible the evidence is, and likewise the claim that this is a threshold condition for detention.”

The man’s lawyer, Sawsan Zahar of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the court’s decision “legitimizes administrative detentions of mentally ill people based solely on suspicious statements, without a professional expert evaluating whether the detained patient had sound and independent judgment at the time.”

Zahar also complained that “only after a two-month legal process was the detainee’s basic right to have a professional medical examination of his condition met. Imprisoning a man without charge is an extreme, unjustified step, especially when it further endangers his mental health,” she said.

In its appeal, Adalah stated that the man had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and that he was committed to a psychiatric hospital in May 2018 and again in October 2020. After the second stay, both his psychiatrist and the Sha’ar Menashe psychiatric hospital said his condition was unstable and that he had suffered in the past from paranoid psychosis.

The 27-year-old man was arrested on May 17, during the war fought that month between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, a conflict that also led to, including conflict between Israeli Arabs and Jews. He was interrogated by the Shin Bet, and on May 31, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed a four-month administrative detention order against him. The district court approved the order on June 21.

In addition to this detainee, 14 other people are currently in administrative detention in Israel. Two are Arab citizens of Israel and the others are East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Last Thursday, , a West Bank Palestinian who had also been in detention without trial, was released following a 65-day hunger strike.

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