Gov’t to Support Judicial Reform that Advances Annexation of OPT

A Knesset committee decided on Sunday, February 25, that the government coalition will support a bill that revokes the Supreme Court’s authority to sit as the High Court of Justice (HCJ) for trials related to land-ownership petitions filed by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

In general, the Supreme Court can be convened as the HCJ to hear initial trial cases (as opposed to appeals) which do not fall under the jurisdiction of any other court.

If the proposed bill becomes law, all trial cases involving land-ownership claims by Palestinians will henceforth be handled by the Jerusalem District Court instead of the HCJ. However, the Supreme Court would still retain its authority to hear appeals of such cases.

President Reuven Rivlin, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the justices of the Supreme Court, September 2017

President Reuven Rivlin, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the justices of the Supreme Court, September 2017 (Photo: GOP)

The bill is being sponsored by far-right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party. High Court justices have often criticized the government’s repeated requests to postpone the destruction of unauthorized occupied West Bank Jewish outposts, in an attempt to legalize construction there. Last month, Shaked said: “The Jerusalem District Court is the address that allows examining the facts, rather than making do only with the offhanded claims of ownership that are not backed up by evidence.”

According to Haaretz, last week the Judicial Appointments Committee selected Haya Sandberg to serve on the Jerusalem District Court. Sandberg was a senior official in the State Prosecutor’s Office before being appointed to head the committee that reviews possible legalization of unauthorized West Bank outposts. She had been considered one of the lawyers in the prosecutor’s office who was closest to Shaked, who pushed for her appointment as a judge.

Although the outpost legalization committee’s discussions are not made public, Haaretz has learned that, in at least two cases, Sandberg adopted a creative pro-settler legal position that contradicted the views of both the Justice Ministry and the Israel military’s legal adviser in the West Bank.

Reacting to the committee’s vote, Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called the bill “another proposal from the workshop of a pro-settler, right-wing government that is seeking to normalize the occupation and promote creeping annexation of West Bank territory and of the court system in the area.”

“The High Court of Justice has never delivered justice to West Bank Palestinians,” Jabareen claimed, “but even the little that it did do disturbs the government.” Jabareen called the committee vote “another goal of Habayit Hayehudi attained on the way to annexing the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” adding that the move will complicate and prolong legal proceedings, leaving the Palestinians with little legal recourse.