Skip to main content

Israel frees Jewish hardliner from controversial detention

Meir Ettinger, arrested in the wake of a deadly West Bank firebombing, has been released after 10 months detention without trial
Meir Ettinger stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth after his arrest in August 2015 (AFP)

Israel released a far-right Jewish activist after 10 months detention without trial on Wednesday, the longest an Israeli Jew has ever been held under controversial powers usually reserved for Palestinians.

Meir Ettinger, 24, was one of several Jewish activists whom Israel interned last year after a firebombing in the West Bank killed Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old Palestinian and his parents, Saad and Reham, triggering an outcry over the apparent impunity of the perpetrators of such attacks.

Ettinger has never been directly implicated in the arson, but he was accused of being a key figure behind a wave of nationalist hate crimes targeting Palestinians and Christians in Israel.

He was released on Wednesday from Eshel prison in the southern city of Beersheba, the last of those interned last year to be freed, an Israeli Prisons Service spokesman said.

The Shin Bet internal security agency, which ordered his internment, confirmed that the 10 months Ettinger spent in so-called administrative detention was the longest ever served by an Israeli Jew. 

His release is subject to a raft of conditions, including a ban from visiting the occupied West Bank for a year and Jerusalem for six months, a Shin Bet spokesman told AFP.

He will also be placed under night-time curfew in his home for the next four months, and prohibited from contacting a list of nearly 100 right-wing figures for six months.

Ettinger's grandfather, Meir Kahane, was the founder of Kach, a now outlawed far-right movement that advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.

Administrative detention provides for suspects to be held without trial for periods of up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

Israeli authorities say the powers enable them to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing further attacks in the meantime.

They say the powers also allow them to avoid divulging sensitive intelligence in court proceedings, but the practice has long been criticised by human rights groups.

There are currently around 750 Palestinians held in administrative detention, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

Honenu, a legal organisation which supports right-wing Jewish defendants, called Ettinger's internment an "unreasonable blow to his freedom, dignity and family".

"Ettinger's persecution was solely because of his opinions," the group quoted his lawyer as saying ahead of his release. "This is a dictatorship and trampling of civil rights."