New Regulation May Bar Migrants, Palestinians From Filing Lawsuits in Israeli Courts

Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has signed on regulations that require plaintiffs to cite their Israeli ID numbers or foreign passport numbers on the documents they file. Although the ministry said the cases of individuals such as migrant workers, Palestinian residents of the territories and stateless individuals who have no passport will be referred to a registrar or judge, civil rights activists say the new regulation will bar those without foreign passports from filing lawsuits in Israeli courts.

The regulations, which are to take effect on September 1, require that anyone filing suit in Israeli court must state their Israeli ID number and for those who are not residents of Israel, they must note the number of their passport and the country that issued it. A large number of migrant workers who cross the border illegally from Egypt arrive here without passports.

In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the Justice Ministry said that the courts administration has issued instructions to the clerk's offices at each courthouse that in cases in which the prospective plaintiff has no ID number, the matter should be referred to a registrar or judge. However, jurists who work with migrant workers say the regulations would constitute a procedural impediment to access to Israeli courts for thousands of people a year.

Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, wrote a letter to the justice minister warning that the new regulations requiring ID or passport numbers will immediately deprive Palestinian residents of the territories, migrant workers and stateless individuals who have no passports from filing suit in Israeli courts because, according to Feller, the court clerks will not accept their court papers without the required identification number. Neeman's office did not respond by press time.

The right to access to the courts is a fundamental right in Israel, Feller stressed in his letter to the justice minister, and is also guaranteed by international conventions on the status of refugees and stateless individuals. When it comes to Palestinian residents of the territories, Feller wrote that large numbers of them do not have Palestinian Authority passports. He said if a Palestinian seeks to file a damage claim in Israeli court for acts carried out by an Israeli soldier, for example, the Palestinian should not have to be forced to apply for a Palestinian passport as a condition for filing suit.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported on a proposal for legislation by the Interior Ministry that would substantially curb judicial oversight of that ministry's decisions regarding migrant workers. According to the ministry's memorandum on the proposed law, a migrant who wishes to appeal a decision by the ministry to deport him would have to leave the country before submitting the appeal. Israeli advocacy groups on behalf of migrants said the proposed law was an effort to bypass judicial review.

The Jerusalem District Court.Credit: Tess Scheflan
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi