Israel’s Military Dictatorship in the West Bank

In effect, the army is circumventing the civil system. It sets policy and implements it without any supervision from either the civil legal authorities or the political authorities.

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Not long ago, the general in charge of the army’s Central Command, Nitzan Alon, signed an order barring Palestinians from appealing to the military courts against decisions to confiscate their West Bank property and/or money solely on suspicion that they were used to commit a crime. This order was issued solely on the basis of staff work done by the military prosecution, which is not a civil agency. The Israel Defense Forces argues that in any case, Palestinians can appeal to the High Court of Justice (though in practice, such an appeal is difficult and expensive).

This decision strengthens the army’s control over Palestinians’ lives and deepens their alienation from Israel. The IDF has instituted a military dictatorship in the West Bank, which deviates from what is permissible for the army of a democratic country and also violates UN conventions on occupied territory. Decisions on everything that happens in the West Bank – even approving the status of universities – are left up to the army, and the army also carries out these decisions, which are becoming ever more extreme, especially against the background of efforts to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In effect, the army is circumventing the civil system. It sets policy and implements it without any supervision from either the civil legal authorities or the political authorities – though with the exception of a few moderate politicians, these authorities apparently wouldn’t object to its decisions.

Israel boasts of being the only democracy in the region and claims that its behavior in the occupied territories is fair, while the Palestinians are the ones who reject every solution it proposes to the conflict. But democracy, of course, is built on the separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial – and on maintenance of a balance between them, with organizational, political and social systems in place to prevent any of the three from becoming dominant.

Measures like Alon’s order taken by the army in the territories undermine the supremacy of the civilian political system, which is responsible for the military. This new order is admittedly aimed at Palestinians, but it fits well with the anti-democratic legislation of recent years, which has seriously damaged Israel’s social fabric and the democratic foundations of the state.

Given Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s recent statements about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as his statements about the impossibility of a peace agreement and his contempt for the positions of the Palestinian leadership, it doesn’t seem likely that he, of all people, would exercise his authority to overturn this military order. Thus the question is when will some responsible political or social organization arise – one that has the good of the country in mind – and turn to the Knesset or the High Court to get this perverse order canceled.

Naomi Sheffer serves on the board of Ossim Shalom-Social Workers for Peace and Welfare. Gabi Sheffer is a professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

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