Tomorrow, 30 August 2006 at 9:00am, an expanded of nine justices of the Israeli High Court of Justice, presided by Chief Justice Aharon Barak, will hear a petition filed by nine human rights organizations from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), demanding that the Court declare void the amendments to the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law. The Law prevents Palestinians from seeking compensation from the State of Israel for damages inflicted by the Israeli security forces, even those inflicted outside of the context of a military operation.
The petition was submitted on 1 September 2005 by Adalah, HaMoked and ACRI, in their own names and in the names of Al-Haq (West Bank), The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (Gaza), B'Tselem, Physicians For Human Rights, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights, by Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Orna Kohn, HaMoked Attorneys Yossi Wolfson and Gil Gan-Mor, and ACRI Attorney Dan Yakir.
The petition was heard before a panel of three Justices in July 2006. Following the hearing, the Court issued an order nisi and decided that a further hearing would be held before an expanded panel of Justices. The parties also agreed on the content of an injunction later approved by the Court. The injunction freezes the hearing of individual cases submitted to the courts, prevents the state from arguing for the dismissal of cases based on the statute of limitations regarding damages for which no lawsuit has yet been submitted or for which a lawsuit was submitted and subsequently withdrawn. Thus, the rights of the injured to sue the state in the future will be protected should the High Court accept the petition.
Prior to tomorrow’s hearing, the petitioning organizations submitted their closing arguments and responses to the state’s position to the Court. The petitioners include a list of cases in which the state asked courts to reject individual cases without considering them based on the amended law. For example, the list includes a case in which the state asked the Court to reject a lawsuit filed by a family whose house was damaged and looted by Israeli soldiers after seizing their house for two weeks. In other cases, the plaintiffs’ houses were severely damaged during the army’s demolition of a neighboring house. The third kind of example involves incidences of shootings of civilians, including an eighteen-month-old infant and his father, outside the context of a military operation.
The latest amendments to the Civil Wrongs Law, which were passed by the Knesset at the end of July 2005, deny residents of the OPTs, citizens of “Enemy States” and activists or members of a “Terrorist Organization” the right to compensation for damages caused to them by the Israeli security forces, even those damages caused to them outside of the context of a military operation (with some minor exceptions).
The amended law grants the Minister of Defense the authority to proclaim any area outside of the State of Israel a “Conflict Zone,” even if no war-related activity has taken place there. This proclamation denies those who sustain injury within the area the right to seek compensation from Israeli courts. The law operates retroactively in cases of damages sustained since 29 September 2000, the date of the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and for claims already pending in the courts.
In the petition, the organizations emphasized that the law grossly violates the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which apply in the OPTs. It also breaches basic rights in contravention of Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and is therefore unconstitutional. The petitioners further argued that the Law sends out a dangerous and extreme message that the lives and rights of those injured in a “Conflict Zone” have no value, as the courts will not come to their aid, and those who caused their injuries will face no punishment. As a result, the Law is both immoral and racist. The petitioners also argued that the articles of the Law de facto terminate the monitoring of the Israeli military’s activities in the OPTs, discourage investigations and bringing those responsible for cases of death or injury before the courts, including in cases in which damages were caused by the random or deliberate opening of fire, torture and abuse, and looting and theft of civilian property. The Law thus violates the fundamental rights to life, bodily integrity, equality, dignity and property, as well as the constitutional right of access to the courts.
The petition stressed that the violations entailed by the law are gross, as they deny in a sweeping manner the awarding of any remedy for the breach of fundamental rights, and that this denial is tantamount to a denial of the rights themselves.
The petitioners asked the High Court of Justice to establish that the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty applies to all residents of the area under effective Israeli control. The Court has recently established, in its decision regarding the Israeli government’s “Disengagement Plan” from the Gaza Strip that the Basic Law applies to Israeli settlers living in the OPTs. Therefore, a decision that the Basic Law does not apply to Palestinians in the OPTs would create a constitutional regime of "apartheid."
The petitioning organizations also dealt with one of the central claims put forward by the initiators of the law, that each party must bear the costs for its own damages: the State of Israel bears the costs of damages sustained by its citizens, and the Palestinians will carry the burden for damages incurred by Palestinians. The petitioners contended that this sweeping principle not only has no basis in international law, but also relies on the assumption of equivalence in power between the Israelis and Palestinians, as two independent states, or at least two political entities, with no relationship of domination and subordination. This logic, however, ignores the clear and obvious reality that the relationship between the two sides is that of an occupying power and a protected population under occupation, and that the occupying power is obliged to apply the norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and afford protection to the civilians in the occupied territory.
A delegation of four international law experts from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) will attend the hearing at the Court tomorrow and report on their findings. The delegation is composed of Birgit Lindsnaes, Denmark, EMHRN Executive Committee member; David Bondia García, Spain, Federación De Asociaciones De Defensa Y Promoción De Los Derechos Humanos; Marita Roos, Sweden, EMHRN Project Coordinator; and Sophie Bessis, France, Deputy Secretary General, FIDH.
H.C. 8276/05, Adalah, et. al. v. The Minister of Defense, et. al. (case pending)