Activists’ release prompts questions on Oz jurisdiction

Does the Interior Ministry’s Oz Immigration Authority have the right to operate in the West Bank?

February 8, 2010 23:07
2 minute read.
Australian national Bridgette Chappbell, right, an

foreign activists arrested 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Does the Interior Ministry’s Oz Immigration Authority have the right to operate in the West Bank? Is the IDF allowed to make arrests in Ramallah, which is under Palestinian Authority administrative and security control? Is it allowed to make arrests that do not involve security allegations? Are foreigners whose Israeli tourist visas have expired guilty of breaking the law if they reside in the West Bank? These are some of the questions that have arisen over the arrest and incarceration of two women, Ariadna Marti, from Spain, and Bridgette Chappbel, from Australia, who were arrested by soldiers at the offices of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Ramallah early Sunday morning.

The case was brought before the High Court of Justice later that day by their lawyers, Omer Shatz and Iftah Cohen.

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According to their story, part of which is included in the petition, up to 20 IDF soldiers broke into the ISM office in Ramallah at 2:30 a.m., seized computers, cameras, protest signs and other material and arrested the two women on the grounds that they were in Israel illegally.

The soldiers drove the handcuffed women to the Ofer military base, located in the West Bank, just north of Highway 443, where Oz unit inspectors took them into custody and drove them to Holon for questioning. The inspectors allegedly told them that they could leave Israel immediately or be jailed. They refused to sign an agreement to leave the country voluntarily.

Later in the day, Shatz and Cohen petitioned the High Court, charging that the arrest was illegal and that the women should be released and allowed to return to Ramallah. They charged that the army could not make arrests in Area A and that it had not arrested them for security reasons. Moreover, they claimed that the women had not broken the law since they were living in Ramallah and did not require an Israeli visa, and that the Oz unit was prohibited from operating outside Israel’s boundaries, which included the Ofer military base.

On Monday, in an interim decision, Justices Asher Grunis, Uzi Fogelman and Yitzhak Amit ordered the women to be released from jail and gave their lawyers five days to petition the district court against the expulsion orders issued against their clients. The court also ruled that the women could not return to the West Bank while their case was being heard in court and ordered each of them to leave a deposit of NIS 3,000.

In an embarrassing incident, the state informed the court that some of the facts included in their response to the petition were incorrect. According to one of the claims made in the response, the Oz inspectors took custody of the women on Israeli soil. This was incorrect. The court ordered the state to prepare another response to the petition within five days.

Shatz told The Jerusalem Post that for the first time, an Israeli court, and the Supreme Court at that, had ruled that the Oz unit was prohibited from operating outside Israel. Oz inspectors have already arrested foreigners on several occasions in Bil’in, Nil’in and Ramallah.

Sabine Hadad, the spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, told the Post that the Oz unit was only allowed to operate within Israel and would take strict care in the future not to act outside its borders, including in the Ofer military base.

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