Comptroller: IDF West Bank courts have inadequate security for judges

Military police pressured not to probe senior IDF officers.

New court rulings could have ramifications in Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
New court rulings could have ramifications in Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF’s West Bank courts have inadequate security for judges, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said in his annual report on Monday.
According to the report, anyone from the general public could easily access the judges’ chambers unfettered by security measures.
In addition, the ease of access could lead to questions about whether there is enough separation between judges and lawyers, said the report.
Covering the period from February 2017 to April 2018, the report commented that both the prosecution and defense lawyers appeared to be able to barge into the judges’ offices unannounced, something which is not the practice in Israeli civilian courts.
A separate issue mentioned in the report was that the court buildings were insufficient both functionally and aesthetically for the status that the judicial branch should be accorded.
In that respect, the report said that it was especially important for the court buildings to be improved, since international media and diplomats visit the courts as part of reporting on the treatment of Palestinian defendants.
Though the courts are a major source of public debate regarding Palestinians’ human rights as well as Israel’s obligations under international law and in combating Palestinian terror, they are essentially small, adorned, temporary caravans.
The report did not seem to recognize that there is also a substantive internal Israeli debate about whether the court buildings should be permanent or remain as caravans, treating the issue merely as a budgetary one.
Some note that the courts have existed for decades with no sign of closing and they deserve more permanent buildings. Others say that the courts should remain in caravans since, if there is a peace deal at any point, the IDF courts will need to quickly pack up and hand over jurisdiction to the Palestinians.
Decades ago, before the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, the IDF West Bank Court system was in six places, with larger, more permanent courts.
When the IDF withdrew from Areas A and B of the West Bank in favor of Palestinian autonomy, its West Bank judges and prosecutors left many of these locations and consolidated in two main spots: near Salam in the North and at Camp Ofer off Route 443 near Ramallah.
Unmentioned was that the IDF Prosecution is building its first permanent building at Ofer at a cost of NIS 12 million, much of which was raised by seizing terrorism-financing revenue. In contrast, permanent buildings for the judges might run up to NIS 100m. – not an easy sum to raise when the IDF is making cuts in most areas.
Another point the report highlighted was that the courts don’t have access for the handicapped.
While civilian courts have handicapped access, the IDF West Bank Courts are unique in that nearly the entire system is at ground level, with at most a few buildings require ascending a few stairs – not long staircases like in the civilian courts.
Anecdotally, The Jerusalem Post also understands that the issue does not come up frequently – although in principle, those supporting handicap access tend to argue that frequency of need should not be a consideration.
Finally, there was criticism that the computer systems for the courts were not sufficiently secure, both for protecting their own information and that of Palestinian defendants.
In a separate part of the annual report, the comptroller reviewed the operations of the IDF police from August 2017 to June 2018.
Officers told the comptroller that there is pressure on them not to investigate senior IDF officials.
They added that many IDF police officers do all they can to avoid being assigned to such cases so as not to have a negative effect on their career advancement.
The comptroller said that the Defense Ministry must develop new regulations to better insulate the IDF police from pressure regarding their career tracks and the method of their promotion.
IDF police regulations are not properly recorded, which often leads to lower standards, insufficient coordination among different police units and insufficient training, said the report.
A variety of specific IDF police divisions have insufficient personnel and funding, resulting in evidence being tainted, lost or mishandled.
Significantly, the comptroller found that the IDF police intelligence unit was poorly trained and had too many inexperienced junior offices who could not properly fulfill their roles.
In addition, the report said that IDF police evidence labs have sometimes mishandled evidence, failed to carry out tests or significantly delayed sending requested tests in a way that caused injustice or harmed IDF prosecution cases.
There are also problems with coordination between the IDF police and the national forensics center. The report said that the forensics center was late in performing tests in 54% of cases from 2017 that were checked.
Finally, also in 2017, the IDF police fraud unit’s size and resources were reduced.
The comptroller said that this means that there has been a 67% reduction in fraud cases filed without it being demonstrated that less fraud is being committed. In other words, simply fewer cases are being followed-up because of reduced resources.

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