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A Jew is Forced from his Homeland

By Yekutiel Guzofsky

This morning at 7:00 a.m., Israeli Prison Authorities walked Ephraim Khantsis through passport control on the Third Floor of Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, onto a New York bound jet with a one-hour stop-over in Kiev. Khantsis had been in an isolation cell at Beersheva’s Eshel prison for the past two weeks. He was not permitted visits, phone rights, or access to have any of his clothing or basic possessions, including prayer books and tefillin. These basic religious and human rights afforded to any prisoner – Jew or Arab – were denied Ephraim.

Ironically, Khantsis was never charged with commission of a crime. At the time of his incarceration he was Israel’s sole Jewish Administrative Detainee. This, after receiving a three month order of detention, several weeks ago.

British Laws, Israeli Dungeons

Administrative Detention is an antiquated, emergency military power inherited by Israel from the Colonial British Mandate that governed pre-state Israel. In 1984, Israel finally canceled the “Majla” Islamic Turkish Ottoman Law that had, until then, been part of Israel’s law codes. However, the country has yet to rescind the Emergency Mandate Powers used by the British against Jewish pioneers after the fall of the Ottoman Turks.

The British conquered Palestine in WWI from the Turks with the help of Jabotinsky’s Jewish Legion, subsequently their commitment to the Balfour Declaration, declaring a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, then, did everything possible to dampen and destroy Jewish national aspirations in the years that followed.

Administrative orders were one of the key tools used by the British in their efforts against Jews who objected to British treachery. Indeed, the cruel and draconian orders stifled many efforts to create a strong Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael. Today, in an ironic twist of history, that same tool is used by the Israeli government against its own citizens with similar strong nationalist sentiments

Ephraim Khantsis Suicide Bomber?

Administrative detention has been used as a last resort, primarily against Arab terrorists who are considered “ticking time-bombs”. It’s also employed when the state lacks admissible evidence against a dangerous suspect. In short, it’s a last ditch effort to prevent a suspect from carrying out the final stages of a murderous plot.

All agree that Khantsis had no co-conspirators and no plot. All of the “secret information” submitted to the courts focused on certain “extreme philosophies” preached by the young Zionist firebrand. He possessed an ideology that his yeshiva and his interrogators had zero tolerance for.

Khantsis is a 22 year-old computer programmer who immigrated to the U.S. from Odessa when he was eight, graduated Stonybrook University last year, and came “home” to Israel to fulfill his life-long dream of aliya. Upon arrival in Israel, he enrolled in Machon Meir, a well known Zionist yeshiva in Jerusalem. Machon Meir seemed like the perfect choice for a young Jew, new to Israel and new to Torah observance, seeking to study Judaism, and learn a beginner’s Hebrew in a pro-Israeli environment. It is rare to find a yeshiva for beginners with a pro-state-of-Israel orientation. There are no shortage of “Haredi” – “ultra Orthodox” institutions for beginners, that frown upon students enlisting in the IDF and mock the modern State of Israel for its secular character.

Betrayed by his Rabbis

Ephraim, however, was an odd fit at Machon Meir. For on the one hand he maintained ultra-Zionist ideals, eager to study Hebrew and enlist in the IDF, but on the other, he passionately rejected the Yeshiva’s pro-government philosophy. He viewed the current policies of Israel as treasonous and as a blatant betrayal of Torah. Surrendering Jewish land, destroying Jewish homes and valuing secular laws over Torah were not things he could honestly show support for.

Ephraim made the “mistake” of speaking openly about his views at Machon Meir. It was not long before these same views were themselves labeled ‘treasonous’ and the GSS was informed. Incidentally, Machon Meir is a favored grooming ground for Israeli agents because so many Jews with so many different foreign passports, who passionately worship the state of Israel, pass through their ranks. Many are even in the process of conversion, lacking the common “Jewish traits’ that the Dubai police chief has so proudly thought to have discovered. Students are regularly invited to meetings to become potential agents for the state. Many, too, are asked to spy on their fellow students, to be sure that “right wing extremist” co-students are not planning crimes against Arabs or other state interests.

Ephraim’s Rabbis at Machon Meir gave him two days to change his views. The Shin Bet operatives who came to his yeshiva several times in futile efforts to silence him were also at a loss how to deal with a young activist who spoke openly to them of his anti-government thoughts. The GSS (Shin Bet) first issued a more lenient administrative order, prohibiting him from entering into Judea and Samaria for three months. But later, after Ephraim defiantly violated those restrictions, arrested him in Samaria with a more stringent Administrative Detention order signed by Defense Minister, Ehud Barak on Feb 16.

The Judge sees through the GSS

The new order translated into three months in jail, without trial, and without cause or reason given. District Court Judge President Moussa Arad, was asked by the State Prosecutor to ratify the three month detention order.

Judge Arad was hesitant and perplexed. She had never seen a case like this, with a Jew who refused to recognize the law of the land and her authority; who asked not to have legal counsel; who refused to cooperate with the proceedings, but who appeared to have no concrete criminal or security plot that he intended to carry out. She had seen Arab terrorist rings and suspects who had been seen with bombs or who had been recorded speaking in detail about specific terror activities they intended to initiate. In these cases she had no problem signing off on the administrative order. But here there were no bombs, there was no organization of terrorist co-conspirators, and she certainly had no specific plot to weigh in her decision.

Arad, understanding the inherent weakness and limitations of the Shin Bet case, and knowing that Ephraim posed no real threat to anyone, brokered a deal to ship Ephraim off to the United States for the duration of his detention. From there he would be free to return in May. She issued a ruling on February 22 effectively obligating the Israeli prison authorities to permit Ephraim to freely call his relatives in the U.S. and arrange the purchase of a ticket for him to immediately fly home to New York. The authorities permitted one, sixty-second call to arrange the flight, three days later. He was permitted to fly March 2. No explanation has been given for this blatant violation of Arad’s ruling, which should have enabled Ephraim to call and leave jail nine days earlier.

Ephraim Sees no Reason to Cooperate

Ephraim’s attorney jumped at the opportunity to substitute three months jail for three months of “freedom” abroad. Ephraim was less enthusiastic. The Judge’s compromise proposal was an easy way out for the state, the defense attorney and for the judge herself. No need to fight the order. No need to fight for alternative house-arrest in Israel, with an electronic bracelet or other proposals that would have gained Ephraim his freedom in his new home, Israel.

Ephraim’s attorney, rather than fighting the order, expended all his skills of persuasion convincing the young and defiant detainee to accept the deal. To the surprise of all, Ephraim who moments earlier refused to accept the rights of the government to issue the order and who refused to partake on any level with the proceedings, agreed to his voluntary temporary deportation.

A Precedent Setting Case?

The Ephraim Khantsis case brings into question not only the use of the anti-Jewish, un-democratic, military emergency powers inherited from the British Mandate. Indeed, without due process and basic legal rights, how does the modern State of Israel distinguish itself from tyrranical totalitarian states? But more than this, it calls into question the degree of deprivation a loyal citizen of the state can be subject to when he has committed no crime, plans to commit no crime, and merely holds views that are at odds with the reigning authorities.

For it is bad enough to hold a person in jail without offering him the right to review the evidence against him and without offering him the right of a trial and due process. But to hold him in conditions worse than those of Arab terrorists is mind boggling. To deny a political-religious prisoner phone rights, visitation rights, prayer books and tefillin, and to prevent him from carrying out a court order that allows him to organize his release is an outright and blatant violation of his most elementary human rights.

The Israeli authorities have already alerted their American counterparts of Khantsis’s return, and the FBI has visited his relatives stateside. How sad that Israel, now the target of an unprecedented international witch-hunt in the aftermath of the Dubai debacle, with hypocritical, Jew-hating European nations now sharing passport, flight and phone communication information to hunt down the Jewish assassins, would now appeal to the Americans to harass an Israeli citizen for no apparent reason.

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