Photo Credit: Miriam Alster / Flash 90
View of the Samaria Jewish community of Havat Gilad, (Gilad Farms) January 10, 2018.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee overnight Wednesday debated a bill that petitions regarding land disputes in Judea and Samaria will be heard in the District Courts and not in the High Court of Justice. The bill merges a private bill proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and a government bill led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi).

Officially, the purpose of the proposed law is to reduce the burden of the Supreme Court, to make it easier for citizens to handle administrative matters, and to allow for an additional appeals court. But the obvious intent is to end the discrimination that has been practiced for years against the residents of Judea and Samaria, and to support their ability to investigate and clarify the facts and arrive at the truth.

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Currently, land disputes inside green line Israel are heard in a court of administrative affairs in which a factual inquiry can be conducted, whereas Arab petitions to the High Court regarding claims on Israeli owned land do not receive a factual inquiry and the court largely accepts the factual claims prima facie.

The current system puts the burden of proof on the defendant – the state, frequently resulting in the uprooting of thousands of Israeli settlers and the demolition of their property without a deliberation of the facts, as was the case in the High Court’s Amona and Netiv Ha’Avot rulings.

The explanatory notes to the bill say that to date the normative civil procedure of fact-finding has not been applied to the petitions against the regional authorities in Judea and Samaria. “As a result, many petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court, resulting in discrimination against residents of the territories whose access to the courts has been violated, both because the first petition is less accessible to them, and because of the absence of an appeal court in administrative petitions.”

“Therefore, it is proposed to add to the list of matters […] that may be appealed to the Court for Administrative Affairs decisions made by the regional authorities in Judea and Samaria, including the Civil Administration, and to determine that they, too, shall be heard before the Court for Administrative Affairs.”

MK Bezalel Samotrich said in a statement: “The transfer of the hearing of administrative petitions in Judea and Samaria from the High Court of Justice to the District Administrative Courts is an important stage in the normalization of Judea and Samaria and the matching of the laws there with the legislation accepted within the green line.

“The transfer of the hearings to the District Courts will provide legal access to the residents of Judea and Samaria and will make the hearing of their cases more legal and less political. I hope that the existing bias in the High Court of Justice against the settlements and the settlers will be balanced in the district courts, which are, as stated, less political and more agenda-free.

“No more petitions without factual basis and absent any elementary proof that are accepted only because the person who submitted them is an Arab or a leftist NGO.”

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