At least when it comes to violence, there has to be one law both for Palestinians and Israelis in the territories. If the government really means its promises to fight Jewish terror and extremist violence with determination from now on, there is a simple and easily implemented step it must take: It must ensure that Jewish residents of the territories who are suspected of offenses against security and public order will be investigated and tried under the same laws – and in the same military courts – as their Arab neighbors who are suspected of the same offenses.
Nowhere in the Israeli security legislation for the territories is it stated that the laws apply only to Arab residents of the territories and not to Jews or to Israeli citizens. The policy, as is well known, is to arrest and try settlers in the civilian courts on the other side of the Green Line. This policy can be changed without any need for legislation.
Of course the thought that Israeli citizens will be tried in the military courts is not pleasant, but in the reality in which two populations are living in the territories under two different systems of laws and legislation – a natural and fundamentally perverse outcome of the settlement project, from a legal and moral perspective – it is impossible to do anything in the area that will not be off-kilter. The least weird step that can be taken is, as noted, to determine that at least in matters concerning violence, security and public order, there will be one law and one court for everyone who lives under the Israeli military government.
The military courts in the territories are not courts martial that decree wholesale executions. The legal procedures followed in these courts are supposed to ensure the rights of the accused. It is possible to appeal their rulings to a higher court and – at least as long as no one bulldozes it – the High Court of Justice supervises the entire system.
There is no reason to assume that military judges will be hostile to settlers. The main thing that is expected to change if this proposal is implemented is the arrest procedures. Today, a Jewish inhabitant arrested in the territories is brought before a magistrate’s court inside Israel within 24 hours, while his Palestinian neighbor suspected of the same offense can be held for four days, and in certain cases even eight days, before he is brought before a military judge for extension of his remand. The periods of detention before trial, upon a judge’s decision, are also longer in the territories.
Presumably, if the security authorities have these tools at their disposal in their struggle against Jewish extremists in the territories, their work will be easier and more effective. Moreover, it is very important to refresh the procedures and make it clear to soldiers and their commanders in the field that they, too, and not only the police, have authority to make arrests in the territories, of Arabs and Jews alike. In the absence of clarity with regard to this, we hear about extremely infuriating cases of soldiers who refuse to arrest Jews, even when they see these Jews attacking Palestinians or Palestinian property.
The official explanation for the wider authority to arrest is not that Palestinians’ freedom is less important but rather that the security situation in the territories is more tense, the threats are more serious and therefore the burden on the law-enforcers is heavier. All this, in and of itself, is perfectly true, regardless of the broader aspects of the issue.
However, it applies to every kind of violence, regardless of which side perpetrates it. Now there is an opportunity to strengthen the hand of the law-enforcement authorities in this volatile area.
This proposal does not touch upon the political debate over the future of the territories, nor does it exact any security price, but rather the opposite. The willingness to implement this requires only a real commitment to fighting extremist violence, and with a certain amount of seriousness and determination.
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