The Discriminatory Face of Israel's Second Legal System

Police conduct in the case of Nasser Nawaja proves that Israel's Arabs are forced to live by a different set of rules.

Ezra Nawi, center, near a Jerusalem court this week.
Olivier Fitoussi

The arrest of B’Tselem researcher Nasser Nawaja illustrates the distortion of Israel’s ongoing rule in the territories and its unacceptable, discriminatory character. The District Court ordered Nawaja released because it was not authorized to hear the case, due to the fact that his alleged offense was not committed in Israel and was not considered a security offense, which the Israeli court is authorized to hear. But instead of releasing Nawaja, the police transferred him to be held in the Israel Defense Forces’ Ofer camp in the West Bank. The District Court refused to rule this move contempt of court, and the matter has now being appealed in the Supreme Court.

This conduct reveals the injustice in two legal systems under one regime – one for Jews and one for Arabs. Nawaja was arrested and interrogated at the same time as Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia, who are suspected of acts similar to the ones of which Nawajah is suspected. Even if their arrests and the suspicions against them seem dubious, their situation is still better because Nawajah is subject to the military justice system, in which his rights are less well protected. Thus, Nawi and Butavia on the one hand, and Nawajah on the other, are subject to two different sets of laws although their actions were carried out in the same area.

The 2014 report by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel entitled “One Rule, Two Legal Systems” states that the military rules of incarceration are stricter, and suspects can be held for longer periods and are more likely to be prevented from seeing their attorney. Punishment is also usually harsher. The United States ambassador to Israel spoke about this situation last week, but this is not a new phenomenon – it is an injustice created during the ongoing occupation, in which Israel maintains judicial apartheid in the territories.

Beyond the differences in the legal systems, one must wonder about the very interrogation of Nawaja, who, according to the investigative journalism TV show “Uvda” (“Fact”), approached the Palestinian Authority over a suspected attempt to take over lands belonging to his family. A request for assistance to the PA by a Palestinian is an obvious step, and suspecting Nawajah of “contact with a foreign agent” is absurd. On the one hand Israel does not consider Palestinians as citizens, but on the other, it wants to continue controlling their lives by creating the illusion of self-government in the form of the PA. Nawajah’s attorney, Gaby Lasky, said that for a Palestinian resident of the territories, a meeting with a Palestinian security official is not an offense – on the contrary.

A military court ordered Sunday that Nawaja be released under supervision but this was delayed by 24 hours to allow for an appeal by the police. It would be preferable if the police gave this up.