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One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank

Israeli court
Photo 110858238 © Oguz Eren |

A report published by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) outlines the nature of the legal regime currently operating in the West Bank. Two systems of law are applied in a single territory: one – a civilian legal system for Israeli citizens; and the second – a military court system for Palestinian residents. The result: institutionalized discrimination.

"Two residents of the Hebron area have an altercation within the territory of the West Bank and are both arrested." One of them, a Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba, is taken to a nearby police station, is immediately interrogated by a police officer, and is brought within 24 hours to a hearing before the Jerusalem Magistrates' Court. At this hearing, the judge decides to order his release on bail; this is not a very severe case, and the defendant pleads self-defense.

The second person, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, was arrested for 96 hours before being brought before a military judge. He is de facto interrogated only once during this period of time, under suspicion of committing an assault based on nationalistic motivations, which is deemed a security offense, and he is tried before a military court, where he faces a penalty of extended incarceration. -a passage from within the report.

The "One Rule, Two Legal Systems" report reviews the prevailing legal situation in the West Bank under Israeli rule and explains how decades of "temporary" military rule have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between the two population groups living in the same territory – Israelis and Palestinians. The difference in the law isn't just about security or crime; it affects almost every aspect of everyday life.

A series of military decrees, legal rulings, and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers. The High Court of Justice has ruled that the rights enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws (equivalent to constitutional provisions) apply equally to these citizens, despite the fact that they do not reside in sovereign Israeli territory. A substantial portion of Israeli law is also applied within the Occupied Territories to "Jews according to the Law of Return" who are not Israeli citizens.

By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military law — military orders that have been issued by IDF Generals since 1967. This is in addition to the Jordanian laws that preceded the region’s occupation. Unlike Israeli citizens, Palestinians are tried in military tribunals for every crime, from traffic violations to the theft of a carton of milk from the grocery store.

According to Attorney Tamar Feldman, Director of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Department: "This report demonstrates that discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians, living under one rule and in the same territory, is not a localized phenomenon but an issue of institutional discrimination, as it is applied to areas entirely unrelated to security matters." It falls to Israeli society to recognize this reality.

Attached to this report is the response of the Justice Ministry, which does not deny the factual situation outlined in the report but justifies it according to security considerations.

One Rule, Two Legal Systems Full Report in English

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