The government has paid hundreds of millions of shekels in damages to Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza for harm caused them by the IDF during military operations since the first intifada, a representative of the State Attorney's Office told the Knesset Law Committee on Monday.
The committee met to continue its discussion of a government-sponsored amendment to the 1952 Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law that would further restrict the rights of Palestinians to sue the state.
The bill has already been amended twice. However, the second amendment was struck down by the High Court of Justice on the grounds that it disproportionately favored the interests of the state vis-a-vis the rights of Palestinian civilians whom the state is obliged to protect.
Much of the committee debate revolved around the amendment to the first article in the law, which defines an act of war. According to the current definition, an act of war is one that "includes any act of fighting or preventing terrorism, hostile acts or insurrection, which was carried out in circumstances in which [the soldier's] life or physical well-being was threatened."
The government wants to drop the condition that the soldier's life or physical well-being must be threatened for the state to be immune from damages.
A state representative explained that any action involving the prevention of terrorism, hostile acts or insurrection is inherently threatening to the soldier's safety and therefore there is no reason to specify that fact.
Even Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who strongly supports the amendment, thought the state was going too far by dropping the condition. He gave, as an example, a situation in which a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogator breaks the bones of a Palestinian detainee during interrogation. In such a case, the interrogator caused injury when he was clearly in no danger.
Rotem instructed the state's representatives to consult with the government and come up with a provision that would specify exceptions to the new definition. This would mean that a soldier would be assumed to be acting in a situation where his life was threatened, and therefore the state would be immune from lawsuits, unless he acted in certain, exceptional circumstances specified by the law.
In defending the definition proposed by the government, one Justice Ministry attorney argued that many lawsuits have been filed against the state for incidents in which the Palestinian plaintiff argued that no Israeli soldier had been in danger.
This, she said, was a frequent argument in cases of targeted killings causing harm to innocent bystanders, she said, where the plaintiff maintains that the pilot who fired the missile was not in danger during the operation.
This type of long distance warfare against terrorism is increasing as IDF weaponry becomes more sophisticated, she continued. The army is increasingly using long-distance, high-precision weapons that soldiers can fire without being exposed to danger.
In cases where such weapons cause inadvertent harm to Palestinian civilians, the state should not be exposed to the threat of lawsuits because the military action was an act of war and mistakes happen in war. These kinds of mistakes are not caused deliberately or maliciously, she maintained, and therefore the state must be protected.
The legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Dan Yakir, was one of several representatives of human rights organizations at the meeting who strongly criticized the bill for granting such sweeping immunity to the state.
Yakir said the government was trying to bypass the High Court ruling that struck down the previous legislation, by granting the state the same disproportionate solutions using a different method.