Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked MK Bezalel Smotrich at a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee session.

A team of legal representatives for the security establishment appeared on Tuesday before the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, to argue against a bill that would, in essence, create an even playing field for the Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria in their struggle against a barrage of claims from PA Arabs and anti-Zionist NGOs that appeal to the High Court of Justice.

The Committee began on Tuesday to prepare for a second and third readings the proposed amendments to the Administrative Courts Law initiated by MK Bezalel Samotrich and Minister Ayelet Shaked, to transfer from the High Court of Justice to the Jerusalem Court for Administrative Affairs the authority to hear petitions regarding administrative decisions of the IDF Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, dealing with freedom of information, planning and construction, entry into and exit from Israel, and restriction and supervision orders issued in the area.

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The law will force Arab appeals regarding land appropriations in Judea and Samaria to pass the scrutiny of a normal civil court, with all the requirements for verifiable facts and evidence. To date, such claims have not survived the scrutiny of the court, as opposed to the High Court of Justice which, being a feature of Israel’s Supreme Court, deals with procedure and does not scrutinize the evidence.

As Attorney Marganit Levy, representing the Justice Ministry, told the committee: “The Administrative Affairs Court has more ability than the High Court of Justice to clarify factual matters.”

She added that “the length of the process in the administrative court is significantly shorter than that of the Supreme Court, and it is expected that a petition in the District Court will be completed within six months.”

Uri Mendes, Deputy Head of the Civil Administration, told the committee: “More than 400 petitions are submitted annually regarding planning, construction and housing in [Judea and Samaria]. The establishment of an additional court will not cut the additional hearing in the High Court of Justice. In fact, it will mean that each case will be heard in two courts and sometimes even at three (when the case is returned to the lower court), which will severely impede law enforcement.”

Unfortunately, as the Israeli Supreme Court is set up today, Mendes has a point. Unlike all other high courts in the free world, Israel’s Supreme Court, when acting as the High Court of Justice, welcomes petitions and appeals from claimants who have not gone through the appeals process, but go directly to the top. Also, under the current system, claimants need not show their right of standing – meaning they don’t have to prove direct injury from the case in question.

Indeed, if this inequity remains the way the high court does business, an appeal could now go through the entire judicial system, start to finish, and still make it as a petition to the uppermost hierarchy.

Lt. Col. Adi Noy, Deputy Legal Advisor for the Judea and Samaria Legal Counsel, told the committee: “This year there has been a relative decline in petitions against planning and building permits due to the Regulation Law, because it froze the demolition orders [against Israeli settlements].”

This was a hint that soon, after the High Court of Justice 9-judge panel is done decimating the new law, things would go back to the way they were, with the IDF happily carrying out new court orders to demolish Jewish homes.

Still, Noy pointed to an increase in PA Arabs’ petitions of rejection of entry permits to Israel, and expressed the assumption that “the number of petitions will be doubled due to the addition of a [civil] court.”

Chavi Weingut, Legal Counsel to the Defense Ministry, told the committee: “We agree with the assessment that the bill will double the number of petitions and therefore the ministerial committee decided to retrieve the bill before the second and third readings, in order to reexamine the relevant budgetary issues.”

MK Dov Khenin, the only Jewish lawmaker in the Joint Arab List, presented a realistic view of the bill, its purpose, and what he hopes would be its unintended consequences: “What we are doing here is a dramatic and controversial move to apply the jurisdiction of an Israeli court to the occupied territories, and this is totally contrary to international law.”

Khenin noted that the right should be bothered by the new law because it would turn the searchlights on every land dispute in Judea and Samaria.

“This will encourage international legal intervention in what is happening in the territories, and I welcome it,” the Communist Party’s MK concluded.

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