Was Israel’s Judiciary Compromised?
When it comes to cases involving Palestinians, Israeli courts are increasingly pushing for compromises rather than making a clear decision, generally for fear of a backlash.
Apparently terrified from the far right, Israeli judges, who know that the Palestinians are in the right, are pushing them to accept compromises so as not to be on the record as ruling in favor of them. Those rejecting compromises are exposing the lack of independence in the Israeli courts.
Courts around the world adorn themselves with statues of lady justice. She carries scales for weighing evidence, and usually wears a blindfold, showing her impartiality to the status, wealth or power of litigants. She also is adorned with a sword, representing authority and the finality of her decisions.
In at least two recent cases, the courts have repeatedly pushed for compromises while the Palestinians have insisted on a ruling. In the Sheikh Jarrah case, the courts are pushing Palestinians to accept a compromise in which they stay in their own homes as protected tenants for their lifetime provided that they accept that their homes are owned by a settler organization.
The Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war live in homes built by the UN and the Jordanian government on abandoned land in what is now occupied East Jerusalem. An Israeli settlement organization, Nahalat Shimon, that neither built the homes nor had clear proof of ownership of the land, is demanding to be recognized as the homes’ owner. The Israeli Supreme Court was provided ample evidence from the Jordanian government and from an Israeli researcher that has clearly tilted the case against eviction, yet the court, fearing a backlash from settlers, is kicking the can down the road and asking Palestinians to accept a compromise made by lawyers for the Jewish settler organization.
Furthermore, the Israeli government, which has refused to appear in court to give its position on the matter, is now asking the Biden administration to pressure Palestinians to accept the compromise that would legitimize the settlers’ naked land grab. In addition, the Israeli settlers’ compromise places a target on the Palestinian families’ backs. If a Palestinian resident dies, settlers would be able to take over the home. This is a scary opportunity for an “accident” in which the Palestinian might be killed.
In the Mohammad El Halabi case, the lead judge has repeatedly pushed a man that the UN has recognized as a humanitarian hero who has been wrongly imprisoned to accept a plea bargain in which he would admit to transferring money to an armed Palestinian organization in return for his freedom. The plea offer was made a few months after his initial arrest in 2016 and has been offered repeatedly by the prosecution and encouraged by the Israeli court. Israel has accused El Halabi – who, as director of the Gaza office of World Vision, was authorized to sign off on expenditures of up to $300 – of transferring $50 million to armed Palestinian organizations. He has refused to plead guilty, stating repeatedly that he cannot take responsibility for a crime he didn’t commit. Instead of ending the case, which has no evidence and which the auditors of the donor agency have disproved, the judge has postponed a decision over the course of five years and 164 court sessions.
While in the Sheikh Jarrah case, the Israeli judges don’t want to anger the settlers, in the Halabi case, the judges don’t want to go against the Shin Bet security agency or the Foreign Ministry, both of which have egg on their faces due to the sham case that has continued for years. Attempts at gagging the defense lawyer and even forcing him to write his closing argument on the prosecutor’s computer based on fake claims of security, have not diminished world attention to this case, including “concern” by the UN secretary-general, human rights organizations, civil society activists and officials from Australia, the UK, Canada, and the US. The pope was asked to intervene.
In both these cases, Israeli judges have shown an inability or unwillingness to rule in favor of Palestinians, pushing them to accept so-called compromises offered by settlers or the government prosecution.
William Ewart Gladstone, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, cited the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” and Martin Luther King Jr. similarly said in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
While continuing to use the courts as one of the only avenues they have, Palestinians in the occupied territories have long lost faith in the Israeli legal system in which Palestinians are convicted at a rate of over 99%, almost all on plea bargains and forced confessions.
Israeli media identified one of the three judges of the Israeli high court as living in a settlement in the occupied territories. This fact brings to mind a well-known Arab proverb that says: When the judge is your enemy, to whom shall you complain?
Israel has for some time claimed to be a democracy and to have an independent judiciary that is like Lady Justice: impartial to the status of the litigants, able to properly weigh the evidence, and carrying the sword of authority and finality. The evidence now is clear that Israeli courts are neither just nor fair.