West Bank Military Court Verdicts Now Admissible in Israel

Knesset passes bill despite objection from attorney general. Opposition argues that law is de-facto annexation of West Bank, where Israeli law doesn't apply.

The Ofer military court.
The Ofer military court. Daniel Bar-On

The Knesset passed a law Monday that recognizes verdicts by military courts in the West Bank as admissible evidence in legal procedures in Israeli civilian courts. The plenum voted in favor of the bill in its second and third readings.

To date verdicts by military courts have not been recognized in Israel and Israeli law does not extend to the territories. Sovereignty in the area belongs to the head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, who issues laws using general's commands. 

During the debate on the bill a confrontation developed in the plenum, as opposition lawmakers called the new law the first step in an attempt to apply Israeli legislation in the territories.

MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) said it was "de-facto annexation of military court verdicts to civilian courts. It is applying Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which is occupied territory."

Bahloul attacked the law's initiator, MK Anat Berko (Likud), when he said she "worked hard in order to bring this law only in order to perpetuate the occupation." He turned to Berko and said: "You are in fact denying the international dynamic that obligates the State of Israel. Is it her desire to perpetuate the occupation on two million people?"

Berko replied to Bahloul and said that "the law will make it easier for victims of terror to demand compensation from convicted terrorists in civilian courts since they will not have to begin the legal process from zero, rather can base on evidence already produced in military courts."

She said this will save them time, expenses and resources. "The interest in making it easier for them is a supreme interest," she explained. "As opposed to the claims of some opposition members according to which it is part of a 'creeping annexation,' legal sources who accompanied the law's advancement emphasized time and again that this law has nothing to do with annexation. On the contrary, the law comes to fix discrimination in favor of the Palestinians, because while Palestinians can sue Israelis for civilian compensation based on a criminal conviction, Israelis cannot do the same to Palestinians. That was true until now and now the legal situation is changing and balancing."

MK Osama Saadi (Joint List) said in his speech that "this law is a continuation of a series of laws that we will witness in the near future. Today in the reform committees they held a discussion to equate building and planning laws in Israel and the occupied territories. Call the child by its real name and don't stand for a laundry of words - we're talking about a creeping annexation. Also the 'Ma'aleh Adumim first' bill, that they intend to bring [for a vote] after January 20 [Donald Trump's inauguration date]. This bill to recognize military court verdicts contradicts the legal system that has always been in place."

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has criticized the notion of recognizing military-court rulings in Israeli courts, and the Knesset has been warned of possible repercussions abroad if the bill passes.

“A ruling by a court that is not authorized to rule in Israel, including the rulings of a military court, cannot be used as evidence in a civil procedure in Israel,” Mendelblit once wrote in a document submitted to the High Court of Justice. “This position emerges from the wording of the [relevant] clause, its purpose, the principles of our methodology and the rules of international law.”

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), a leader of the opposition to the bill, said military-court procedures do not meet Israeli standards of due process and the rights of the accused, “so it’s understood that their findings cannot be accepted in Israeli courts. The motive for this legislation is revenge, and I hope it will be voided in the future by the High Court for being blatantly unconstitutional.”