The High Court of Justice last week rejected a petition by Gaza Strip residents to be allowed into Israel in order to handle lawsuits against the state.
The petition against the interior and defense ministries policies was submitted by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. They represented four Gaza Strip residents who had claimed they were harmed by the actions of the Israel Defense Forces and had filed civil damage suits against Israel. Their requests for permits to enter Israel had been denied.
As a result of the petition being filed, in May 2013 the State Prosecutor’s Office published rules for examining entry-permit requests by Gaza Strip residents for the purpose of legal proceedings in Israel. The procedures state that their entry into Israel “will be allowed in exceptional humanitarian cases only.”
Among the considerations to be examined as part of the permit request are a lack of criminal and security reasons for denying the permit; the possibility that refusal to allow entry will lead to the cancellation of the legal process, or cause it serious harm; the stage at which the legal proceedings are at, as well as an examination of the circumstances of the incident that’s the subject of the suit; and the type of injury and extent of its alleged damage to the plaintiff.
In response to the petition, the state claimed that people who are not Israeli citizens or residents have no inherent rights to enter Israel, and in light of the security situation in the Gaza Strip, there was no reason to allow automatic entry into Israel.
The state also told the High Court that the new procedures were meant to provide structure for the process and, in so doing, balance between essential security needs and the granting of entry into Israel for the purposes of a legal case.
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote the opinion last Tuesday, and justices Uri Shoham and Noam Sohlberg concurred.
Rubinstein discussed the state’s conflict of interest – in being the defendant being sued, as well as the party deciding whether to approve entry into Israel for purposes of the legal proceedings.
“The state wears two hats, being responsible for security on one hand, and as a defendant in the cases on the other, and it must take care as much as possible not to mix between the two,” ruled Rubinstein. He reserved criticism for some of the state’s statements, which, even if they were unintentional, reflected its wearing of the two hats, he added.
After the decision, the organizations representing the plaintiffs said, “Even though the High Court criticized the procedure, it is sending the plaintiffs to comply with it, even though the state has not presented a single case of an exit permit given to a plaintiff under this procedure.
“Today’s ruling effectively blocks the access of Gaza residents to Israeli courts, since it confirms the illegal procedure that restricts the constitutional rights of Gaza residents to reach the courts as plaintiffs or witnesses, subject to the needs of the defense of the State Prosecutor’s Office in such cases. This procedure also blocks the access of lawyers from Israel to meet their clients in Gaza. The lack of effective access to the courts today leads to the rejection of civil-damages cases in Israeli courts for lack of representation or the inability of a plaintiff’s witnesses to be present.”
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