(photo credit: INIMAGE)
In a move that will likely provoke global criticism, the Knesset late Wednesday passed its first reading of a bill which would dictate that Israeli civilian courts recognize the IDF West Bank courts’ criminal judgments in suits for civil damages.
The vote passed with 53 in favor and 46 against.
Although the Judea and Samaria military courts have largely similar rules of procedure and evidence to Israeli civilian courts, there are some significant differences, and they face constant criticism, which the civilian courts try to avoid.
Critics will likely argue that this vote is an invalid attempt to normalize the West Bank military courts which handle Palestinian crimes, despite their status as an arm of “the occupation.”
But the bill has heavy support from the Right, as it is seen as a symbol of reinforcing the West Bank military courts’ legitimacy and showing solidarity in the judicial branch with aspects of Israeli governing bodies in Judea and Samaria.
The law will allow the victims of murder and other crimes by Palestinians to sue them for civil damages in Israeli civilian courts, following a criminal conviction.
Until now, an Israeli assaulted by someone prosecuted in Israeli civilian courts would have had that right, but someone assaulted by Palestinians, who are prosecuted in the separate West Bank military court system, would not have had that same right.
In April, lawyer Adrian Agassi pulled off a series of firsts, winning punitive damages in the Judea and Samaria courts against the murderers of Asher and Yonatan Palmer, after having obtained a criminal murder conviction – a strategy that no one had previously attempted.
But at that point, there was no clear path forward for enforcing the damages awarded, as the IDF does not collect damages and the Israeli collection office works only with judgments obtained through Israeli civilian courts.
Now, victims like those Agassi represented can seek damages and enforcement through the civil collections system.
However, whether the Israeli collection system can enforce civil judgments on Palestinians living in the West Bank remains very unclear. The new bill would at least make collection possible.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked responded to the vote, saying, “Only recently we heard the harmful words of a respected professor who boycotted a conference because military judges participated. Terrorism we fight with the security forces, but no less important is the... military court system.”
MK Anat Berko (Likud) added, “The military courts in Judea and Samaria live up to the standards of the legal establishment in Israel. Nothing in this bill annexes the courts...
rather it recognizes the legal results.”
In contrast, MK Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) slammed the change, stating, “You are changing the basic foundations and acting against the position of the attorney-general and the position of the State as filed to the High Court of Justice.”
The attorney-general was asked if he opposed the legislation, but his office had not responded by press time.
The bill must still pass votes in committees and in second and third readings of the full Knesset, before becoming law.