Opinion

Dear Europe, Take Note: If You Want To, Israel Can Be Pressured

A recent case involving Dutch solar panels shows how friendly states can make Israel back down when it violates international humanitarian law

Electricity returns to Palestinian village Jubbet Adh-Dhib, southeast of Bethlehem, in the West Bank, eight months after Israel confiscated its hybrid (solar and diesel) electrical system
Emil Salman

The High Court justices once more found an escape hatch; once again, they would not have to discuss the basic, outrageous fact that Israel is not connecting thousands of Palestinians (on both sides of the Green Line) to the national electricity and water infrastructure. This time the way out was found in the village of Jubbet ad-Dhib at the foot of Herodion, southeast of Bethlehem. It needed a hybrid (solar plus diesel) electrical system that was installed by the Comet-ME Israeli-Palestinian aid organization, because Israel had not met its international obligation to connect it to the electrical grid.

All those who accuse the High Court of being leftist can relax. It has missed hundreds of opportunities to rule that withholding water and electricity is illegal according to international law, illegal according to Israeli law, and unacceptable according to Jewish law. Hundreds of times – to count by the number of petitions that have been submitted – the court had the opportunity to instruct the state to connect the Palestinian communities to the water and electrical infrastructure, but it avoided doing so, often citing technicalities. Back when current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was still a toddler, the court was already repeatedly missing opportunities to salvage the reputation of Jewish morality from downing in the sludge of nationalism and the lust to expel.

The escape hatch in Jubbet ad-Dhib was shown to the justices by Brigadier General Ahvat Ben Hur, but it was none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who created that opening. The Dutch government, which had funded the hybrid electrical system, was furious over the confiscation of the solar panels, and Netanyahu promised the Dutch in writing that the panels Israel had confiscated from the village in late June would be returned. And then what does Ben Hur, the direct commander of the confiscators from the Civil Administration do? He informs the state prosecutor, which informed the High Court, that he’d decided to return the panels.

Ben Hur did not do so to honor the state’s obligation to a protected population. Rather, he cited a technicality. The panels were confiscated eight months after they had been installed and operate, he explained. Thus, the petition written by attorneys Michal Sfard and Michal Pasovsky was rendered redundant. That’s a shame. It would have been interesting to see what contortions the justices would have got into in response to the arguments (also accepted by the Dutch government) that denying access to electricity and destroying electricity systems are offenses that violate international humanitarian law.

Ben Hur’s statement enabled the state prosecutor and the justices to also avoid addressing the fact that the Civil Administration had made improper use of a military order. The seizure orders that were given to the Jubbet ad-Dhib residents on the day of the confiscation cited Article 60 of the order regarding security provisions. This article makes seizure contingent upon a criminal offense having been committed using the equipment slated for seizure. The confiscation order did not specify what offense was supposedly committed with the solar panels. The lawyers’ inquiries to the Civil Administration about this went unanswered. Presumably, then (also based the COGAT spokesperson’s response to journalists), the suspected offense is related to planning and building laws. But this is an administrative offense that does not come under the military order regarding security provisions. The procedures for dealing with it are different – cease work orders and demolition orders, hearings, arguments against the orders, appeals, negotiations, a petition to the High Court.

Sfard and Pasovsky say that, to the best of their knowledge, this was the first time the Civil Administration had made use of Article 60 to confiscate equipment. This did not occur randomly, they wrote in the petition: “Either the solar panels are not ‘construction’ materials and therefore their installation without permits is not a violation of the law for which enforceable action may be taken (as we believe), or the legal area that covers the construction of these facilities is the laws of planning and building, and the enforcement processes must be executed solely by virtue of this and in accordance with this.”

Someone apparently pressed hard on the Civil Administration and its jurists and wrecking crews to disconnect the village – which is surrounded by unauthorized and well-pampered settler outposts - from electricity. The planning and building laws did not allow for the confiscation, and so an irrelevant article in the military legislation was cited instead.

Something even stronger stood behind this someone: forceful legal representation, and the Dutch position. The details have already been described, but it, I admit, gives me special pleasure to write them again and again. The restoration of the solar panels was preceded by protest and condemnation from the Dutch Foreign Ministry; protest by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in a face-to-face meeting with the Israeli prime minister just days after the confiscation; two hearings in the Dutch parliament about the confiscation; agenda questions submitted by three factions of the Dutch parliament; and clear and detailed responses received from the Dutch foreign minister and minister of international cooperation and development. As part of those parliamentary activities, the information about Netanyahu’s meeting with his Dutch counterpart was revealed, and later, his written promise to return the solar panels.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for Haaretz.

Holland and all of Europe, take note: When you want to, Israel can be pressured. You know that Israel’s violation of international law in Jubbet ad-Dhib is not some exceptional occurrence. So please continue, for the sake of the Palestinians and for the sake of the Jews who live in this country.