Palestinians have filed 500 lawsuits against the state for physical injuries or property damage allegedly caused by IDF soldiers since the beginning of the second intifada, and many more such suits are expected, a Justice Ministry official told the Knesset Law Committee on Monday. The committee was holding its first meeting to prepare for the second and third (final) reading of a bill aimed at reducing the number of lawsuits heard in court and providing a broader defense for soldiers' actions that might be construed as making the state liable for damages under the current law. The bill is an amendment to the 1952 Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law. The law states that Israel is not civilly liable for a military operation executed in a situation of war. The question that came up as a result of the two intifadas - which began in 1987 and September 2000, respectively - was what constituted a "military operation," since neither of the two cases represented a classic war situation in which two armies were pitted against each other. An earlier amendment to the law recognized that "a war operation included any action combating terror, hostile acts or insurrection, and also an action intended to prevent terror, hostile acts or insurrection that is taken in a situation endangering life and limb." Under the current law, any soldier, whether operating in Israel or in the West Bank or a foreign country, must prove that his life was in danger for his actions to be considered a military operation. According to the state's new proposal, that obligation would not apply to soldiers in the West Bank or foreign countries because the law assumes that the lives of soldiers operating outside Israel are inherently in danger. "It is assumed that any action to prevent terrorism taken in the West Bank inherently and by definition places the soldier at risk," the Justice Ministry explained. However, in Israel, the soldier must still prove that his life was in danger, as the security forces are not automatically assumed to be at risk and are usually conducting policing actions rather than military operations. Another provision of the amendment would allow the state to declare whenever it wanted that it would not be liable for damages to the resident of an area which the state, by decree, declared to be "hostile territory." Thus, whenever and for as long as the state declared a certain area of the West Bank, or the entire West Bank, hostile territory, Palestinians would not be able to sue the state for incidents that occurred within the time the declaration was in effect. It also stipulates that Gaza has been a hostile area since the unilateral withdrawal from the territory in 2005. Other provisions of the bill state that all lawsuits by Palestinians involving damages caused by the army must be heard in Jerusalem courts; that if the state insists that the action for which it is being sued was a bona fide military operation, the court must hear that argument first; and that if the court awards damages, it must do so in accordance with the laws of the country in which the victim lives. The Law Committee itself raised many far-reaching objections to the bill, as did human rights and other public groups. The discussions are set to continue.