Protecting The Rights Of Settlers And Activists: An Interview With Moshe Eyal of the Legal Forum for the Land Of IsraelTuesday, April 14th, 2009
In the aftermath of the forcible evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers from Gush Katif in 2005, legal protection for settlers and right-wing activists in Israel was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, legal organizations dedicated to the defense of basic rights for Arabs and left-wing Jews were thriving.
Stepping in to fill the vacuum was the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, whose volunteer staff, comprised of Israel bar-certified attorneys and legal and financial experts, sought government accountability in cases involving the violation of settlers’ basic legal rights.
The director of development of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, Moshe Eyal, recently discussed the accomplishments and objectives of his organization with The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: What prompted the creation of the Legal Forum?
Eyal: The Legal Forum was established in September 2004 in response to the changing policies of the Sharon government and the dangers such policies presented to the basic human rights of Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
My brother Nachie Eyal is the founder and director of the Legal Forum, and it was our view that a watchdog group of attorneys needed to be formed to challenge the laws of the Israeli government as it pertained to the rights of settlers.
While Israel lacks a bill of rights, we still felt it was inherently unconstitutional to evict Jews from their homes as was done in Gush Katif in the summer of 2005. We now have a staff of 40 volunteer attorneys and more than 200 members – including economists, academics and other professionals.
Before we arrived on the scene, the displaced settlers of Gush Katif had virtually no legal rights. We made it possible for them to sue for damages, both psychological and those relating to their property losses, in Israeli courts. Acting as legal counsel to those adversely affected by government policy, we took our cases to the Israeli Supreme Court and successfully sued for fair and equitable compensation for more than 600 families expelled from Gush Katif.
We have also lobbied the High Court of Justice for one billion shekels in compensatory payments for Gaza expellees and have filed more than 25 motions in the High Court, 15 of which regard the unjust government action during the disengagement.
What other issues does your organization consider of paramount importance from a legal perspective?
We are seeking to create alliances with other human rights organizations to fight against rampant political corruption, to champion environmental issues, and to safeguard human rights.
Subsequent to the recent evacuation of Jews from the Beit HaShalom building in Hebron, we filed a complaint against Avshalom Peled, the Hebron police commander, and the regional IDF spokesman for deliberately circulating a false rumor asserting that a Jewish activist had sprayed a police officer with acid and caused serious injuries.
An investigation revealed that neither the ambulance drivers called to Hebron nor other medical officials had treated an officer for acid wounds. These false allegations made against Jewish activists were part of a government-orchestrated campaign of incitement against the settlers.
In early December, before the launching of Operation Cast Lead, we entered an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the transfer of money to Gaza. The defense minister had approved the transfer of 100 million shekels to Gaza and we told the court that according to the law forbidding the financing of terrorism, this money transfer was neither legal nor ethical.
In late October we stood up for the residents of Sderot by publicly condemning Attorney General Mazuz’s decision to suspend the move to limit the supply of electricity to Gaza. We felt the decision would help the residents of Gaza but ignore the suffering children of Sderot.
You mentioned the plight of settlers in Hebron. What can be done to stop further police violence?
Last August, our organization held a protest in which we sought unfettered access to Kever Rachel in Bethlehem. The demonstration was forcibly halted by the Border Police. During the scuffle that ensued, a correspondent for Israel National News was beaten, detained and questioned by police for filming a policeman hitting a young protestor. The correspondent’s camera was smashed as well.
We sent an urgent letter to the chief of police, to the Judea and Samaria District commander, and to the head of the police internal affairs department demanding an immediate investigation. We stated emphatically that the arrest of and violence against a journalist crossed all red lines and represented a danger of descent into dark regimes.
Is there a role for American Jews in the work of the Legal Forum?
We want American Jews to know they can play a vital role in supporting a legal rights organization that is dedicated to crafting legislation to preserve Jewish land ownership in Israel. Those who support us should know that we work within the framework of the Israeli legal and political systems.
We also lobby Knesset lawmakers on a regular basis with the aim of achieving social and political progress, and we’ve set up legal aid offices for the sole purpose of assisting Israeli citizens of the former Gaza and northern Samaria communities.