High Court hears challenge to disengagement pardons

Law pardons arrested, charged protesters in 2005 disengagement; Petitioners say measure discriminates against Arabs.

REUVEN Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Knesset)
REUVEN Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Knesset)
Nine High Court justices on Sunday discussed a petition requesting that the “Disengagement Pardons Law” be repealed on the grounds that it is discriminatory.
The legislation was submitted to the previous Knesset by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and passed a year and a half ago by a vote of 51 to 9.
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According to the law, those arrested and charged during ant-disengagement protests in 2005 would be pardoned for all but the most severe offenses.
The law applies to all those without prior criminal records.
The Pardons Law is not the first time the government has declared an amnesty of this kind: both in 1949, after the War of Independence, and in 1967, after the the Six Day War, the Knesset passed general pardon laws that granted clemency to most non-dangerous criminals.
Rivlin had dubbed the law necessary to heal the rift of the “national trauma” of the disengagement and to help “correct the injustice that was dealt to the [Gaza] evacuees, who paid the price of democracy in the heaviest manner possible.”
As soon as the Pardons Law was approved by the Knesset, 12 left-wing activists submitted a petition to the High Court calling for it to be annulled. The activists – some of whom had been detained during protests against the eviction of Arabs from homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem – said the law discriminated against those arrested on similar offenses in different protests.
In Sunday’s High Court hearing, the lawyer representing the 12 petitioners, Yifrah Cohen, said that the Pardons Law was discriminatory because rather than the general pardons of 1949 and 1967, it applied only to a very specific group of people and was linked with a very specific event.
“[There should not be] laws for specific events. Just like in the past, the law should apply to everyone, to help pick up the pieces for everyone,” he said.
“Why create a law whose scope is so very limited?” Cohen later asked.
In response to the petition, the state’s attorneys said that the law was created to heal a rift caused by an unprecedented event in the country’s history and noted that it will apply to only 1,483 people, including around 300 minors. Of these, only 80 had requested to apply the law.
Among those to whom the Pardons Law applies is Moshe Leshem, a retired IDF colonel arrested during an anti-disengagement protest in Kfar Darom. Leshem asked that he be added as a respondent to the High Court case.
Attorney Nadav Haetzni, who is representing Leshem, told The Jerusalem Post that the Pardons Law was a partial attempt to address the injury caused to those who had protested against the disengagement.
In Leshem’s response to the petition, he argues that the anti-disengagement protesters were subjected to special enforcement procedures, above and beyond those usually directed against those demonstrating against other issues.
“The procedures were, quite simply, draconian, insane and anti-democratic,” said Haetzni, who added that the procedures for dealing with anti-disengagement protesters had been formulated in partial secrecy.
Haetzni said that Leshem’s arrest and detention were an example of those “extreme measures” employed by the government to deal with anti-disengagement protesters.
“All Moshe Leshem did was to stand on a roof, wave an Israeli flag and shout slogans through a loudspeaker,” Haetzni said. “If he had done the exact same thing in any other protest – such as the doctors’ protest in Ramat Gan last week, or the protests in Sheikh Jarrah – the police would just have asked him to move aside. In Leshem’s case, he was arrested and held in detention for six days.”
Haetzni said that the 12 petitioners were “left-wing extremists who have no legal basis for their claims, but just want to cause provocation,” and added that he is reasonably optimistic that the High Court will not annul the Pardons Law.
Attorney Dana Zilber, representing Moshe Leshem, told the court that the Pardons Law had been enacted in response to an exceptional and extraordinary event, and that it applied to people who had no prior convictions.
In these conditions, Zilber said that it “is not illegitimate for the state to implement a process of hessed [grace].”
A ruling in the case is expected within several months at most.
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.