Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights condemns the new amendment to the Civil Wrongs Law, passed by the Israeli Knesset on 23 July 2012. Previous amendments to this law passed by the Knesset since July 2005 have seriously hampered Palestinian victims of Israeli violations of international law. They deny Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), among others, the right to seek compensation for damages caused to them due to the military activities of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Even in cases when such damages are caused to Palestinians due to attacks violating international law and outside of the context of a military operation, the law exempts Israel from civil liability.
The new amendment, issued on 23 July 2012to the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law includes the following changes:
● Modifying the definition of the term “military operation.” The previous text included a paragraph that requires that such operations exist in a context where there is imminent danger on the life of IOF troops. This paragraph was omitted, and the new definition requires such operations to be as such in terms of their nature; including the purpose, location, or the danger on the force as a result of conducting the operation.
● Paragraph 5(B) of the law was amended to State the ability to invoke the no-liability defence when damages occur as a result of a military operation. Courts should now consider this argument and have the power to dismiss cases on this preliminary ground, even without hearing witnesses or considering evidence.
● A new amendment to Paragraph 5 states that only courts in the areas of Bi’r al-Sabi` (Beersheba) and Jerusalem can look into cases submitted by Palestinians.
Paragraph 5(A) was also amended to exempt Israel from compensating persons who are nonresidents of Israel or residents ‘enemy entities’ for damages caused by IOF operations. Having declared the Gaza Strip an ‘enemy entity’ frequently, this amendment gives sufficient grounds for any court to dismiss all torts cases filed by Palestinian residents of Gaza.
● Even more concerning, these amendments apply retroactively and can applied to all cases from 12 May 2005, which means that cases that are pending within the Israeli justice system can be dismissed.
The Israel authorities imposed restrictive measures on Palestinians that render their ability to access justice nearly impossible. For instance, Israeli law gives low level courts the power to consider tort cases filed by Palestinian victims of IOF violations. The victims, eyewitnesses, and others who must give evidence by other means, such as medical tests, require special permits to enter Israel. These permits can be issued by the Israeli security forces, who reject almost all applications for permits submitted by Palestinian residents of the oPt; especially the Gaza Strip. However, the designated courts lack the power to demand the security forces to issue such permits. Judges simply dismiss the cases if the witnesses and victims cannot appear before it physically.
“Besides the physical obstacles imposed on Palestinians; especially by restricting their access to courts to give witness and other evidence, this law abolishes the already slim possibility of remedy available to Palestinians,” said Issam Younis, director general of Al Mezan. “This new amendment and all the obstacles designed to deny access to justice and remedy are against the principles of human rights and international law. They must be condemned by the United Nations, European Union, and international community; and revoked immediately,” added Mr. Younis.
Al Mezan condemns the amendment to Israeli law, which represents a new attempt to create a sweeping exemption of Israel from compensation claims for property damage and injuries caused to Palestinians in the oPt. This development entrenches a serious state of impunity and denial of any remedies for Palestinians affected by Israel’s occupation of the oPt, which encourages the IOF to violate the rules of international law while feeling secure and immune.
Al Mezan notes that this amendment comes in a context of strong expressions of concern by international community for the culture of impunity prevailing in Israel, which is also condemned domestically.
Al Mezan calls on the international community; including the EU, who have just decided to advance its bilateral relations with Israel, to condemn this new amendment and to exert pressure on Israel to ensure respect of international law by refraining from unlawfully attacking and treating Palestinians under its effective control, and to ensure that persons who sustain damages as a result of IOF operations have full access to justice and remedy.
Original press release