Tel Aviv District Court judges have been briefed by Shin Bet officials on the implementation of a new counter-terrorism law, which shifted responsibility for hearing some Palestinians' petitions from the High Court of Justice to district courts.
In a series of training seminars, judges only heard from representatives of Israeli security services and government agencies, who "basically told them what to write in their rulings," according to one participant.
15 judges, who hear petitions from Palestinians asking for residence permits to protect them from alleged threats over their cooperation with Israel, participated in the latest two-day seminar in late November. About 300 such requests are heard by the Tel Aviv District Court yearly, mostly denied.
Under the new law, district court judges also hear petitions from Palestinians whose property has been seized by the Israeli military, in the case that an appeal to the Defense Ministry fails.
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In addition to Shin Bet officials, the judges heard from officials in the offices of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the State Prosecutor. In a seminar held in October, judges visited the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip and were briefed by Shin Bet officials, as well as a senior Israel Defense Forces official and representatives of the military advocate general.
The seminars were organized by deputy president of the Tel Aviv court, Judge Kobi Vardi, after the law was amended in February. They weren't approved by the Institute of Advanced Judicial Studies, which offers ongoing training to judges, but attendance has been made obligatory. Similar training programs normally include non-governmental representatives.
One of the participants said that the seminars reinforced the notion of judges as an extension of the state, "as if they are on the same side as Shin Ben – and it shouldn't be that way. Judges are not meant to learn from Shin Ben or any other government body how to apply the law."
The Court Administration's spokeswomen sent a statement on behalf of the president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Judge Eitan Orenstin, confirming the training seminars were organized "as part of the general enrichment of judges hearing administrative cases." Such trainings, according to the statement, are organized by the Institute of Advanced Judicial Studies or independently by judges. "In this case, the lectures and tours were not at the institute nor were they approved by it, but an independent initiative of the Tel Aviv District Court."
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Courts Administration director Judge Yigal Mersel declined to comment.