[News] How Israel Stacks the Legal Deck - Little Justice for Palestinians

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 13 16:46:37 EDT 2012

Court System Provides Little Justice for Palestinians

How Israel Stacks the Legal Deck


Palestinian baker and activist Khader Adnan 
captured headlines recently for a 66-day hunger 
strike that led him to the brink of death. His 
ordeal began in the dead of night on Dec. 17, 
2011, when Israeli soldiers broke down the door 
of his West Bank home. Adnan was arrested before 
his terrified wife and daughters, and was 
reportedly abused verbally and physically upon 
detention and later in interrogation.

Adnan was never tried but instead faced 
administrative detention. Israeli prosecutors 
presented secret evidence to a military judge, 
who then ordered a four-month detention. Adnan is 
widely believed to be a leader in Palestinian 
Islamic Jihad, which Israel considers a terrorist 
organization. The government, however, lacked 
evidence that he was directly involved in 
terrorist attacks. Adnan’s protest against 
Israel’s unjust legal practices ended after an 
agreement between his lawyers and prosecutors to 
release him April 17 barring substantial new evidence.

Adnan’s case was unique for the extreme sacrifice 
he offered and the public attention it earned. 
Yet Israeli military courts, established after 
Israel’s 1967 seizure of the West Bank, East 
Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, have imprisoned 
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, including 
men, women and children, in similarly unfair 
proceedings, as documented by Lisa Hajjar in her 
book, “Courting Conflict: the Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza.”

To Palestinians, Israeli military courts are 
sites of repression, not houses of justice. 
Palestinian defendants facing trial in 2010 were 
found guilty in 99.74% cases, according to Israel 
Defense Forces documentation. Proceedings are 
conducted in Hebrew, which few Palestinians 
speak. Judges and prosecutors answer to higher 
military authority, denying military tribunals 
full independence. Courts may renew 
administrative detentions in six-month increments 
indefinitely. Some Palestinians have been so 
detained for years, never having enjoyed the 
right to confront and cross-examine witnesses nor 
even to know the evidence against them.

Such evidence is frequently provided by 
Palestinian informers recruited by Israeli 
authorities, often through exploitation of the 
vulnerable. For example, Palestinians seeking 
advanced medical care that is unavailable in 
their own less-developed hospitals are sometimes 
pressured to collaborate in exchange for permits 
to enter Israel for treatment, according to 
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. Credible 
allegations of torture and physical abuse of 
detainees gathered by such groups as the Public 
Committee Against Torture in Israel also continue 
to dog the military court system, despite a 1999 
Israeli High Court of Justice decision barring 
four forms of torture previously used by 
interrogators. Evidence derived through informers 
is notoriously unreliable. Physically coerced 
statements are no more reliable: Those undergoing 
torture often say anything to alleviate their pain.

The quip often credited to Georges Clemenceau ­ 
“Military justice is to justice as military music 
is to music” ­ springs to mind. Yet the 
injustices of Israel’s legal treatment of 
Palestinians in the West Bank cannot be so 
blithely dismissed. The crude procedures of 
military courts may be tolerable during brief 
military occupations. Israel’s occupation of the 
West Bank is anything but brief.

Moreover, Palestinian litigants have fared 
scarcely better in Israeli civilian courts, 
including its vaunted High Court. There, suits to 
defend Palestinian rights routinely fail. Most 
recently, the High Court denied a petition that 
would have barred Israeli corporations from 
exploiting West Bank natural resources such as 
water, gravel and stone for Israeli use.

In the Jordan Valley, 10,000 Israeli settlers 
were allocated 18 times the water per capita that 
native Palestinians were allocated in 2008, 
according to the Israeli human rights 
organization B’Tselem. Restricted access to water 
and other natural resources has doubtless 
contributed to the dwindling Palestinian 
population in the Jordan Valley, from as many as 
320,000 in 1967 to 56,000 in 2009. In leaving 
discriminatory allocations of resources 
undisturbed, the High Court functions as a tool of colonization.

Israel is a colonial power that is still 
expanding in an era of human rights and 
mass-media scrutiny. Its methods for clearing 
land for settlement are necessarily different 
than those of earlier colonial powers, which 
sometimes employed genocide and ethnic cleansing. 
Israel made the most of its opportunities by 
denying return to hundreds of thousands of 
Palestinians who fled from their homes or were 
forcibly expelled by Israeli forces in the wars 
of 1948 and 1967. Thereafter, its inexorable 
takeover of Palestinian lands and other resources 
has assumed primarily bureaucratic form, with its 
courts providing a veneer of legality. But the 
end result ­ the displacement of a native 
population in favor of settlers ­ is the same.

Israeli courts may provide justice to Jews living 
in Israel or the occupied Palestinian 
territories. But a legal system that is fair to 
one ethno-religious group while trampling the 
rights of others deserves to be recognized for 
what it is: a handmaiden to apartheid.

Our own government, by running diplomatic 
interference for Israel and providing it billions 
in military aid, is complicit in the entrenchment 
of Israel’s variant of ethno-religious 
discrimination. Why we support practices that 
subvert our interests and defy our values is a 
question that every American should ponder.

George Bisharat is a professor at UC Hastings 
College of the Law in San Francisco and writes 
frequently about law and politics in the Middle East.

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