Israeli Justice Minister's Pick for Judge: A Lawyer Who Backed West Bank Settlements

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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 27, 2017.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 27, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seeks to appoint an attorney who worked to legalize settlement outposts as a district court judge.

Haya Sandberg, a 50-year-old former senior official in the State Prosecutor’s Office, currently heads the government’s committee to legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts. Shaked wants to appoint her to the Jerusalem District Court.

On Thursday, Shaked released draft legislation that would transfer responsibility for hearing Palestinian petitions against settlements and outposts from the High Court of Justice to the Jerusalem District Court – the same court to which she wants to appoint Sandberg.

Both Shaked and Sandberg declined to comment for this article. The Judicial Appointments Committee is slated to hold its next meeting on February 22; the full list of candidates will be published Sunday.

Sandberg’s colleagues describe her as honest and professional, someone who always puts her client’s welfare first and wouldn’t hesitate to raise any argument that might help him. She is also considered one of the government attorneys most trusted by Shaked. Shaked previously tried to promote her to deputy attorney general for criminal affairs, but Amit Merari ultimately got the job.

Sandberg’s husband, Haim Sandberg, teaches at the College of Management, where he specializes in real estate. He was nominated by Shaked during the last round of Supreme Court appointments, but didn’t get the job. Because of his wife’s candidacy for the district court, he won’t be included on this year’s list of Supreme Court candidates.

Until 18 months ago, Haya Sandberg headed the state prosecution’s civil department. After Shaked became justice minister, the two became close, and Shaked chose her to head the outpost legalization committee after its first chairman, Avichai Mendelblit, became attorney general in February 2016. The panel was set up in July 2015, and its other members are Agriculture Ministry Director General Shlomo Ben Eliyahu and Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben Ari.

The appointment of Sandberg, a Jerusalem resident, to head this committee surprised Justice Ministry staffers because she lacks experience in the field. Her Justice Ministry experience was mainly in the civil department, while her doctorate was in criminal law, a field she also teaches.

Even after Sandberg left the Justice Ministry in June 2016, Shaked insisted on keeping her on as head of the committee. For this part-time job, she earns a salary of 70,000 shekels ($20,30) a month.

The committee’s discussions aren’t public, but Haaretz has learned that in at least two cases, Sandberg took a pro-settlement line in defiance of both the Justice Ministry and the legal adviser of the army’s West Bank division. (The army is formally the sovereign power in the West Bank.)

In one case, the committee authorized moving evicted residents of the Amona outpost to privately owned Palestinian land that the state had declared abandoned property. Its position was ultimately adopted by Mendelblit, but in October, the High Court overturned the decision, in part citing the harm to the Palestinian owners and the deviation from previous practice in the West Bank.

The other case involved the Netiv Ha’avot outpost, located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. Palestinians had asked the High Court to order the demolition of 17 buildings that they said were built on privately owned land, but the state sought to defer the demolition on the grounds that it aimed to register the land as state land.

This decision, too, was authorized by the committee and upheld by Mendelblit, even though the Justice Ministry had argued that the land wasn’t state land. In its ruling, issued about a year ago, the High Court sided with the petitioners and criticized the state.

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