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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Israel stacks the legal deck

From:

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Date:

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 21:44:25 -0400

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Israel stacks the legal deck 

Its court system provides little justice for Palestinians.

by George Bisharat

Los Angeles Times: March 7, 2012

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-bisharat-adnan-20120307,0,5930547.story

[A Palestinian woman holds a poster with a drawing
depicting baker and activist Khader Adnan with a locked
mouth. Adnan captured headlines recently for a 66-day
hunger strike that led him to the brink of death.
(Bernat Armangue / AP Photo / February 21, 2012)]


Palestinian baker and activist Khader Adnan captured
headlines recently for a 66-day hunger strike that led
him to the brink of death. His ordeal began in the dead
of night on Dec. 17, 2011, when Israeli soldiers broke
down the door of his West Bank home. Adnan was arrested
before his terrified wife and daughters, and was
reportedly abused verbally and physically upon
detention and later in interrogation.

Adnan was never tried but instead faced administrative
detention. Israeli prosecutors presented secret
evidence to a military judge, who then ordered a
four-month detention. Adnan is widely believed to be a
leader in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which Israel
considers a terrorist organization. The government,
however, lacked evidence that he was directly involved
in terrorist attacks. Adnan's protest against Israel's
unjust legal practices ended after an agreement between
his lawyers and prosecutors to release him April 17
barring substantial new evidence.

Adnan's case was unique for the extreme sacrifice he
offered and the public attention it earned. Yet Israeli
military courts, established after Israel's 1967
seizure of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza
Strip, have imprisoned hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians, including men, women and children, in
similarly unfair proceedings, as documented by Lisa
Hajjar in her book, "Courting Conflict: the Military
Court System in the West Bank and Gaza."

To Palestinians, Israeli military courts are sites of
repression, not houses of justice. Palestinian
defendants facing trial in 2010 were found guilty in
99.74% cases, according to Israel Defense Forces
documentation. Proceedings are conducted in Hebrew,
which few Palestinians speak. Judges and prosecutors
answer to higher military authority, denying military
tribunals full independence. Courts may renew
administrative detentions in six-month increments
indefinitely. Some Palestinians have been so detained
for years, never having enjoyed the right to confront
and cross-examine witnesses nor even to know the
evidence against them.

Such evidence is frequently provided by Palestinian
informers recruited by Israeli authorities, often
through exploitation of the vulnerable. For example,
Palestinians seeking advanced medical care that is
unavailable in their own less-developed hospitals are
sometimes pressured to collaborate in exchange for
permits to enter Israel for treatment, according to
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. Credible
allegations of torture and physical abuse of detainees
gathered by such groups as the Public Committee Against
Torture in Israel also continue to dog the military
court system, despite a 1999 Israeli High Court of
Justice decision barring four forms of torture
previously used by interrogators. Evidence derived
through informers is notoriously unreliable. Physically
coerced statements are no more reliable: Those
undergoing torture often say anything to alleviate
their pain.

The quip often credited to Georges Clemenceau --
"Military justice is to justice as military music is to
music" -- springs to mind. Yet the injustices of
Israel's legal treatment of Palestinians in the West
Bank cannot be so blithely dismissed. The crude
procedures of military courts may be tolerable during
brief military occupations. Israel's occupation of the
West Bank is anything but brief.

Moreover, Palestinian litigants have fared scarcely
better in Israeli civilian courts, including its
vaunted High Court. There, suits to defend Palestinian
rights routinely fail. Most recently, the High Court
denied a petition that would have barred Israeli
corporations from exploiting West Bank natural
resources such as water, gravel and stone for Israeli
use.

In the Jordan Valley, 10,000 Israeli settlers were
allocated 18 times the water per capita that native
Palestinians were allocated in 2008, according to the
Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. Restricted
access to water and other natural resources has
doubtless contributed to the dwindling Palestinian
population in the Jordan Valley, from as many as
320,000 in 1967 to 56,000 in 2009. In leaving
discriminatory allocations of resources undisturbed,
the High Court functions as a tool of colonization.

Israel is a colonial power that is still expanding in
an era of human rights and mass-media scrutiny. Its
methods for clearing land for settlement are
necessarily different than those of earlier colonial
powers, which sometimes employed genocide and ethnic
cleansing. Israel made the most of its opportunities by
denying return to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
who fled from their homes or were forcibly expelled by
Israeli forces in the wars of 1948 and 1967.
Thereafter, its inexorable takeover of Palestinian
lands and other resources has assumed primarily
bureaucratic form, with its courts providing a veneer
of legality. But the end result -- the displacement of a
native population in favor of settlers -- is the same.

Israeli courts may provide justice to Jews living in
Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories. But a
legal system that is fair to one ethno-religious group
while trampling the rights of others deserves to be
recognized for what it is: a handmaiden to apartheid.

Our own government, by running diplomatic interference
for Israel and providing it billions in military aid,
is complicit in the entrenchment of Israel's variant of
ethno-religious discrimination. Why we support
practices that subvert our interests and defy our
values is a question that every American should ponder.

George Bisharat is a professor at UC Hastings College
of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently about
law and politics in the Middle East.

Copyright (c) 2012, Los Angeles Times

___________________________________________

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