'Rule prevents stateless people filing lawsuits'

The regulation will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians who do not have a passport, Gisha director says.

By
August 7, 2012 02:08
3 minute read.
African migrants in Tel Aviv.

african migrants in tel aviv black 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Human rights groups and refugee organizations sharply criticized the Justice Minister on Monday for signing a new regulation stipulating that litigants cannot file civil court documents without providing an Israeli ID or a foreign passport number.

The Justice Minister, Yaakov Neeman officially signed the regulation last week. It will come into force on September 1, and rights groups say it will mostly affect Palestinians, refugees and migrants who are stateless and do not hold any passport.

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Attorney Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, a human rights group that advocates freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, slammed the regulation as “draconian.”

“The regulation raises concerns that the people who need access to the courts the most are prevented from seeking judicial address,” Bashi told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “This is very worrying for the Israeli justice system.”

The regulation will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians who do not have a passport issued by the Palestinian Authority or a foreign passport, Bashi said.

Michael Alexander of the African Refugee Development Center in Tel Aviv, said that the new regulation was dismaying.

“The directive will remove the last channel of recourse to justice for thousands of asylum seekers who are the weakest, most vulnerable population in Israel today,” Alexander said.

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“Israel cannot remain a signatory to the International Refugee Convention while violating basic rights of the Convention, such as the right to a fair court hearing. The right to appeal to a court of justice is is a universal human right, not a privilege for citizens only,” he added.

Alexander said that African migrants are increasingly victims of hate crimes, and needed to have access to the courts.

“Refugees are terrorized by the ‘deportation police’ who remove people from their homes in the middle of the night, are cheated by employers who exploit their vulnerable situation, and more,” he told the Post. “Their last chance to get a fair hearing against these violations are the Israeli courts – now they are taking this away from us.”

The new regulation will only apply to civil suits, including family law cases. It will not apply to suits filed in the High Court of Justice, administrative affairs courts or labor courts, meaning that Palestinians and refugees will still be able to file proceedings in those courts.

Attorney Oded Feller from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), who wrote to Neeman on the issue, said that the right to file legal proceedings was a basic right in the Israeli legal system, and that this right is also anchored on the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons.

Later on Monday, the Justice Ministry sent a formal response to Feller, which said that the amendments were purely technical in nature, and ensured that litigants in possession of an Israeli ID number or foreign passport specified those details on court documents so that court registrars could be certain that they were dealing with the correct individuals.

“The regulation does not alter therefore the current legal situation regarding the basic right to access the courts,” wrote Dr. Peretz Segal, head of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Counsel department.

In response, Gisha’s Bashi said the regulation did not appear to be a mere technicality, because under the current system the courts still ask civil litigants to supply an ID number.

“What is new is the determination that without an ID number – you can’t file court papers – and that if you are Palestinian, you must get a passport in order to submit court papers, rather than use your Israeli-issued ID number,” Bashi said.

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