In a blockbuster ruling the Supreme Court on Wednesday effectively endorsed two judgments totaling close to NIS 14 million against the Palestinian Authority for falsely jailing 51 Palestinians.
In December 2017, the Jerusalem District Court issued a judgment of about NIS 900,000 in attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs in the case, and in June, a judgment of approximately NIS 13.1m. against the PA for false imprisonment.
In the first case of its kind, an Israeli court in July 2017 ruled that 51 Palestinians who were tortured by the PA for cooperating with Israel could sue the authority for damages.
That 1,860-page ruling, based on dozens of witnesses over several years, was one of the most bizarre in years, as it involved Palestinian citizens coming before the courts of the Israeli “occupation” to get justice for their mistreatment by their own PA law enforcement.
The PA has appealed all of the District Court’s decisions to the Supreme Court and asked that the lower court’s decisions be frozen until the appeal is decided.
Justice Yosef Elron’s rejection of the PA appeal means the PA is now obligated under Israeli law to pay the 51 Palestinians without delay – though there are still questions on how the plaintiffs can realistically collect.
Hoping to deter the court, the PA warned that having to pay the damages, and possibly much larger future damages, might cause the PA to collapse. (The NIS 14 million related only to false imprisonment. That sum could pale compared to the damages the District Court might later issue for the full torture liability.) The PA hoped raising the bigger picture would deter the court.
In addition, the PA said if the Supreme Court grants its appeals after it has already paid the 51 Palestinians, getting that money back could be nearly impossible from so many plaintiffs, many of whom are stateless and could “disappear into the wind.”
Elron said he recognized the problem and ordered that the NIS 14m. be held by the plaintiffs’ lawyers in trust until the appeal has been ruled on.
Broadly speaking, though, Elron said the PA failed to bring specific evidence to show the alleged economic disastrous impact that paying the judgments would have on it.
At earlier stages in the case, the plaintiffs were represented by Elon Moreh resident and lawyer Menachem Kornvich. In recent years, however, they have been represented by law partners Barak Kedem, Aryeh Arbus, Netanel Rom, and David Zurwill, who plan to push for much higher damages for the torture.
In the major July 2017 decision, the District Court said the PA authorities tortured various plaintiffs by “beating them on all parts of the body, hitting them with lead pipes, extinguishing cigarettes on their bodies, hanging them in torture positions for hours and starving them.”
Some of the plaintiffs “were also exposed to extreme heat and cold, or extremely hot or cold water was dumped on them” and authorities ordered doctors to pull out healthy teeth instead of attending to unhealthy teeth.
The PA attempted a range of defenses before the July 2017 decision. At all stages, though, it denied that its personnel carried out any torture. In addition, the PA alternately claimed that it had a right to arrest and pressure some detainees who endangered PA security and vital interests by spying or cooperating with Israel. It also argued that Israel had no jurisdiction over the Palestinians, since they are PA citizens.
Moreover, the PA said international law, not local Israeli personal injury law, should govern the handling of the cases.
Other than eight plaintiffs whom the court found were common criminals, the court rejected the PA’s defenses.
Notably, the court said if Palestinians were cooperating with Israel to thwart terrorist attacks on Israelis, the PA is also obligated to assist in such efforts under the Oslo Accords. Accordingly, the court said the PA could not treat such Palestinians as criminals, much less torture them.
Further, the court found that in some cases, the PA had arrested Palestinians while they were within the Green Line, or had arrested Arabs who have Israeli citizenship.
In both cases, the court said the PA clearly had no authority under the Oslo Accords.
The case is likely to cause significant diplomatic and legal complications between Israel and the PA, especially about whether and how the PA would pay damages.
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