Rulers of law – Israel’s other legal system

When the High Court is told an area is “private Palestinian land,” it isn't told to whom the property belongs or how the determination was made.

Samaria mountains 521 (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Samaria mountains 521
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Democracies, by definition, abhor opaque institutions, unless of course they are vital for national security. In Judea and Samaria, however, a separate legal system operates which is not transparent and operates by its own rules. Here’s how it works: A network of IDF legal advisers has created a virtually autonomous quasi-judicial system that makes policy and controls Area C of Judea and Samaria. It is run by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), headed by Maj.-Gen.
Yoav Mordecai, within the Defense Ministry. Under COGAT, the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria (CA), run by Brig.-Gen Nitzan Alon, GOC Central Command, carries out destruction of homes and property based on decisions of a special unit of the CA headed by Marko Ben-Shabat and his deputy Rami Ziv.
Once Ben-Shabat’s unit decides to destroy a property, the owner has 60 days in which to appeal – to Marko Ben-Shabat’s unit. There is no appeal to a civilian court, except for the High Court, which, relying on the state’s legal bodies, invariably validates COGAT/CA’s decisions. And, of course, a further appeal is impossible.
When the High Court is told that an area is “private Palestinian land,” they are not told to whom the property belongs and on what basis that determination was made. It is simply designated as such by someone at the CA and validated by the state, without any evidence of clear title, or actual ownership. The IDF is responsible for this legal fraud; the High Court is complicit.
The legal adviser for Judea and Samaria, Col. Doron Ben-Barak, is subordinate to the Military Advocate General (MAG), Ahaz Ben-Ari is the legal advisor to the Ministry of Defense.
The MAG is not subordinate to the chief of staff, but to the legal adviser to the government, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, and the state prosecutor’s office, which are run by settlement foes like former deputy attorney-general Mike Blass, his successor, Shai Nitzan, who was appointed by Weinstein, and Deputy Attorney- General Dina Zilber. This legal junta controls the legal and judicial system in Area C of Judea and Samaria.
Unaccountable to anyone outside the system, their decisions and actions are buried beneath layers of bureaucratic veils. A legal cabal, it rules a separate, independent authority that threatens Israel’s democracy.
Col. Doron Kedmi, officer in the CA’s Land Registration Office, opposed the right of Jews to take possession of Beit Shalom, property between Kiryat Arba and Hebron and other properties, like Beit Ezra, in Hebron’s Jewish neighborhood despite proofs of purchase. His decisions led to the violent expulsion of Jews and it took years in court before Kedmi’s decisions were overruled and Jews were granted permission to regain their property.
Apparently, IDF bureaucrats and legal advisers can trump government and even Defense Ministry decisions. For example, in 2009, although the government approved a plan to build 440 homes in Sansana, in the southern Hebron hills, the chairman of the CA’s planning committee, Col.
Shlomo Moskowitz, rejected the plan. Since the planning committee is the only body that can approve building plans in Judea and Samaria, his decisions are “the law.” According to reports, Ronit Levin, legal adviser of the CA, routinely takes land from Jews and gives it to Arabs without proof of ownership.
In 2006, four residents of Maon Farm in the South Hebron hills were arrested for stopping an Arab from plowing Jewish-owned land based on testimony of CA employee Moshe Meiri and attorney Sivan Beiber that the land was owned by the Arab. Three years later, the charges were dropped after documents were brought in court proving that the Arab did not own the land.
In 2010, according to internal secret COGAT documents, the CA (Civil Administration) retroactively legalized 1,611 Arab Palestinian structures that did not have permits. According to COGAT spokesman, there are about 35,000 illegal Arab homes in Area C, officially. The actual number may be twice or three times that amount. Yet, few are destroyed.
Appealing decisions of IDF legal advisers and commanders must go to a military appeals committee, headed by Lt. Col Netanel Benishu, who was quoted as saying that “Israel’s Basic Laws do not apply to settlers.” The influence of high-ranking IDF officers and legal advisers with leftist agendas on policy has distorted and thwarted Israeli and Zionist imperatives.
Biased decisions and false testimony by COGAT/CA officials, aided by the state attorney’s office and the High Court not only undermine the entire judicial system, but contradict the mission of the IDF – which is to protect Israeli citizens, not to carry out immoral and anti-Zionist orders which violate the civil rights of Jews who live in Judea and Samaria.
The existence of legal institutions which are unaccountable, autonomous and beyond Knesset supervision and control compromises the integrity of the state and its claim to be a democracy. The only reasonable solution is to adopt the conclusions of the Levy Report.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.