Written by Attorney Yael Stein,
Research Department Director
Twenty years ago, B’Tselem received a fax from the Israeli Ministry of Justice. It was entitled “Draft bill for Addressing Claims Arising from Activity of Security Forces in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Exemption from Liability and Paying Compensation), 5757- 1997”. To our surprise, we found the document to be the draft of a new bill that would exempt the state from any obligation to compensate Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for damage caused them by Israeli security forces.
The bill sparked vigorous opposition among jurists and human rights organizations in Israel and abroad, and it was shelved. Yet the state did not abandon its objective to cease paying financial compensation to Palestinians, and kept seeking other means to realize this goal. Over time, Israel enacted several legislative amendments, gradually broadening the existing definition of “warfare activity” - which exempts the state from paying compensation - and imposed procedural and evidentiary obstacles on potential claimants. The amendments, in conjunction with inclusive construal by the courts, made it virtually impossible for Palestinian plaintiffs to get compensation for the harm they suffered. The original bill may have been shelved, but its goal was achieved.
In May 2016, B’Tselem published The Occupation’s Fig Leaf, a report on the military law enforcement system. The report also explained our decision to stop referring complaints to a system which functions primarily as a whitewash mechanism while maintaining a semblance of efficient law enforcement with regard to criminal offenses. Yet Israel’s false show of justice also extends to civil matters: Theoretically, Palestinians harmed by Israeli security forces can sue for damages; in practice, few can overcome the obstacles placed in their path by the state and the courts.
Underlying these mechanisms is the aim of enabling Israel to shirk all responsibility for harm caused to Palestinians, all the while ostensibly upholding the rule of law. This elaborate pageant, the collaborative effort of various authorities, is designed first and foremost with a view to sustaining the occupation which has been going strong for half a century. Israel seeks to minimize the cost of the occupation. We demand it be brought to an end.