The Israeli High Court Is at a Crossroad

The legal basis for Israel’s acts in the West Bank’s lands has always been shaky, but now it has been totally destroyed by the government

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The Israeli High Court of Justice.
The Israeli High Court of Justice.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

The High Court of Justice’s display of deference to the planning and construction laws should not impress anyone. In its denial of the Khan al-Ahmar residents’ petition against the demolition of their village, whose houses were built without a permit, the court chose to join a system based on discrimination and oppression.

The Civil Administration serves as the Israeli government’s tool to strengthen and expand its grasp of the West Bank’s occupied territories, by restricting the Palestinians’ rights and evicting them. This practice is a systematic violation of international law, and is based, in essence, on discriminating against the Palestinians compared to the settlers, and on abusing the Palestinians, which runs contrary to Israeli law as well.

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In its ruling to stick to the dry letter of the planning and construction laws, while ignoring the Civil Administration’s overall method of operation, the High Court has given a bad name to fair and just trial, which it is in charge of carrying out.

The High Court of Justice is now at a crossroads. The legal basis for Israel’s acts in the West Bank’s lands has always been shaky, but now it has been totally destroyed by the government. First, the argument that the settlement enterprise is the act of individuals has been proven groundless. It is the act of a state that breaks international law, which prohibits an occupying state to settle its citizens in the occupied area. Second, the principle that Palestinians’ private lands must not be expropriated has been violated. Third, the legal viewpoint, that the Jewish settlement on “state’s lands” in the territories is temporary, and therefore legal as far as international law is concerned, has been smashed on the rock of reality and Israel’s policy. Nothing is more permanent than this false transience.

Unless the High Court recalculates its route, it may find itself an active partner to the government’s illegal policy and to a blatant breach of international law. It will lose its esteemed status in Israel and the world. The High Court should not console itself with the idea that at least the rightist government will be pleased by its verdict. Ultimately, it will not be able to satiate the government’s criminal greed and will have no choice but to strike down laws that openly flout decency and justice, like the land-theft law known as the “regulation” law.

Jewish folklore tells the story of a man who was given a choice between two punishments – either to eat rotten fish or to be chased out of town. The man chose to eat the fish, but ended up being chased out of town as well. The High Court of Justice may find itself in the same predicament.

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