MKs to debate limiting Palestinian lawsuits against state

Bill would largely relieve Israel of liability for damages caused to Palestinian civilians during second intifada.

Nablus smoke 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Nablus smoke 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Knesset Law Committee is due on Monday to start preparing a controversial bill that would largely relieve Israel of liability for damages caused to Palestinian civilians who were not directly involved in the fighting between the IDF and terrorists during the second intifada. The bill was prepared by then-justice minister Daniel Friedmann in 2007, a few months after a panel of nine justices, headed by then-Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, struck down a similar law approved by the Knesset in 2005. The new proposal is formally known as the eighth amendment to the 1952 Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law. The bill aims at restricting the rights of Palestinians to sue the state for injury to person or property caused by Israeli soldiers and is aimed specifically, but not only, at injury caused during the second intifada. It was approved in first reading by the Knesset on July 10, 2008. The proposal would change the definition of the term "war operation" so that the law will not require that situations in which a soldier opens fire even though his life or physical well-being is not threatened can still be considered a "war operation." This means that such a soldier could be regarded as not being liable for damages for his action. The Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law states: "The state is not civilly liable for an act done in the course of a war operation of the IDF." The bill under consideration also specifies that in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or an enemy country, "all actions taken to prevent terrorism, hostile acts or insurrection will be automatically considered war operations." Thus, if a Palestinian sues the state for damages, the burden will be on him to prove that the soldier's action was not taken to prevent terrorism, hostile acts or insurrection. If he fails to convince the court of this, he will lose the case. Another provision stipulates that in case of a lawsuit for damages, if the state declares that the soldier's actions constituted a war operation, the court will have to consider and rule on that claim before anything else. If it accepts the state's argument, it must reject the lawsuit. The bill also states that if the court awards damages to the Palestinian plaintiff, it must do so in accordance with the standard of living in the area of his residence. Furthermore, the bill is retroactive and would apply to any plaintiff in the future or any plaintiff who has already sued the state, unless his case has already reached the stage of testimony by witnesses. Five rights organizations, B'Tselem-The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; The Public Committee against Torture in Israel; HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual; and Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, charged that Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) had deliberately scheduled the discussion during the summer recess, when most MKs are away. The organizations also said that the existing law already allegedly prevented Palestinians from suing for damages. What the new law will do will be to prevent Palestinians from suing "in cases of abuse or vandalism per se, which have no operational justification."