1 September 2005
This morning nine human rights organizations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) filed a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice demanding that the Court declare void the amendments to the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, which 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 by HaMoked, Adalah, ACRI, Al-Haq (West Bank), The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (Gaza Strip), Bï¿½Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, by Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Orna Kohn, Hamoked Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, and ACRI Attorney Dan Yakir.
These latest amendments to the Civil Wrongs Law, which were passed by the Knesset at the end of July, deny residents of the OPTs, citizens of ï¿½Enemy States,ï¿½ and activists or members of ï¿½a Terrorist Organization,ï¿½ the right to compensation for damages caused to them by the security forces, including 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 ï¿½Conflict Zone,ï¿½ 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 before 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 Israelï¿½s 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 ï¿½Conflict Zoneï¿½ 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 monitoring of the Israeli militaryï¿½s 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 governmentï¿½s ï¿½Disengagement Planï¿½ 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.