It has been more than two months since the Jerusalem District Court ruled against the Palestinian Authority, requiring it to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in legal expenses to Palestinians who were tortured by the PA within 30 days. At this point, however the Authority has not paid.
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The legal expenses were ordered as a preliminary measure to be followed by actual compensation for the torture. In a precedent-setting decision issued in July, Judge Moshe Drori found that the PA had tortured Palestinians who were accused of having collaborated with the Israeli authorities. In a nearly 2,000-page ruling, Drori’s decision describes torture methods employed by the PA against its victims, including some Israeli citizens.
The court made a finding of “preliminary liability” on the PA's part and is now holding hearings to determine the exact amount of compensation to which each plaintiff is entitled. In the interim, however, the court ordered the PA to pay the victims’ legal expenses within 30 days of the order, and also ruled that interest would be owed for late payment.
At this point, the PA has failed to pay the legal expenses, and as a result the plaintiffs have applied to the Israeli Finance Ministry to seize the amount owed from PA funds held by Israel.
“We approach you with a request that you use the authority vested in you and assist those who have been imprisoned and tortured, who have risked their lives and even paid with them because they assisted the State of Israel and the [Israeli] security forces in preventing Palestinian terrorism,” the plaintiffs’ request to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon states.
The plaintiffs have asked the Finance Ministry to deduct 510,000 shekels ($145,000) from funds that would otherwise be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, however, the plaintiffs have asked that Kahlon impound a total of 500 million shekels in funds destined to the PA to satisfy the compensation awards that the Jerusalem District Court will order in the next stage of the proceedings. The Finance Ministry has not yet officially responded to the request, but Haaretz has been told by the ministry that it is being considered, and an official decision will be made on the matter.
Prof. Yuval Shany, an international law expert at Hebrew University's Faculty of Law, said that from the outset, Israeli courts have authority over the PA, which, he added, does not have the status of a country. Around 2000, "It was ruled that the Palestinian Authority is not a state,” Shany said. “There is no procedural obstacle with regard to the Palestinian Authority as there is with regard to foreign countries.”
“In that respect, the status of the PA is more like a corporation than a state. That is why it can be sued, and [funds] can therefore also be seized from a legal standpoint,” Shany said. There have been prior requests to seize Palestinian Authority funds, he noted, including a request by the Israel Electric Corporation seeking to satisfy past due electricity payments, as well as requests from victims of Palestinian terrorism.
This most recent case is unusual, however, in that the PA is disregarding a court order that it provide payment.