Ministers Back Bill Barring Palestinians From Petitioning High Court in Some Cases

The bill, pushed by Justice Minister Shaked, would transfer some cases from the High Court to the Jerusalem District Court

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked
Emil Salman

A Knesset committee decided on Sunday that the government coalition will support a bill that denies the High Court of Justice the authority to hear some petitions filed by Palestinians in the West Bank.

The bill would see the cases transferred to the Jerusalem District Court instead.

The High Court of Justice is essentially the same as the Supreme Court, and justices of the Supreme Court hear cases submitted to the High Court of Justice, but they do so as a trial court rather than as an appeals court.

The bill would reduce the High Court’s heavy caseload and would not deprive petitioners from appealing their cases to the Supreme Court, but it would eliminate the Supreme Court’s role as a trial court in some of their cases.

The bill is being sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi party. High Court justices have often criticized the government’s repeated requests to postpone the destruction of unauthorized West Bank Jewish outposts, in an attempt to legalize construction there. In some cases, the outposts have been built on privately owned Palestinian land. Last month, Shaked said: “The [Jerusalem District Court] is the address that allows for an examination of the facts rather than making do only with the offhanded claims of ownership that are not backed up by evidence.”

Because the coalition has a majority in the Knesset, a decision that it will support a bill generally ensures passage of it in some form, although it could be subject to changes in the legislative process.

Speaking following the committee’s vote, Shaked said: “The Supreme Court’s caseload has no counterpart in the world. My view is known, that the High Court of Justice, which handles about 2,000 petitions every year, needs to deny many of the petitions from the outset.” The bill would lower the caseload by sending some cases to the district court.

In an apparent reference to residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Shaked added, “No less important is putting an end to the current discrimination against residents of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. Their rights need to be equal to those of any other citizen.”

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.

If Shaked's bill passes, the Jerusalem District Court will hear cases on administrative matters such as building and planning, permits to enter and leave the West Bank and Freedom of Information Law requests. The district court would also serve as the appeals court for certain orders issued by Israeli military courts in the West Bank, according to a draft of the legislation. Sandberg would most likely be one of the judges to hear petitions from West Bank Palestinians in her new position.

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 Defense Forces’ legal adviser in the West Bank. Sandberg’s colleagues describe her as honest and professional, but said she viewed her job in the prosecutor’s office as “serving her client.”

Reacting to the committee’s vote, Knesset member Yousef Jabareen of the primarily Arab 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 is promoting 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 bothers the government.” Jabareen called the committee vote “another Habayit Hayehudi goal attained on route to annexing the territories.”

Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party called the proposed legislation an effort that blurs the pre-Six-Day-War border “contrary to the position of most of the public.” Shaked, she claimed, “is prepared to endanger Israeli democracy to wave a few achievements at the settlers.”