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Ha'aretz, December 21, 1997

Ignoring Justice to Protect the Budget

By Gideon Levy


One injustice leads to another. One sin leads to another and no one seems able to stopthe speeding train of injustices. First, Israel killed 1,346 Palestinians, including 276 children many of whom were innocent civilians. Now it is denying all responsibility for its actions., The discussion over the proposed Intifada Law, intended to limit the rights of innocent Palestinians to receive compensation from the state for their casualties, is proceeding at a brisk pace. Yitzhak Rabin initiated the proposed legislation, Shimon Peres pressed for its passage, and the present justice minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, is giving it official sanction and has called it "a moral imperative."

Likud and Labor, in a rare show of solidarity, are supporting this law, which, according to top legal experts, may not stand up to a challenge in the High Court of Justice. Thus, the Knesset is about to give a second and third reading to one of the most scandalous laws in international legislative history.

Under Rabin and Peres, one could still hear talk about principles, even though it was merely empty rhetoric: Peres spoke of each side compensating its own victims, as if Israel were not the only sovereign power in the territories at the time. Now, however, the message is being delivered without any shame whatsoever: the justice minister has openly admitted that the law is designed to protect the state budget. Money must be saved at all cost, and to hell with justice., Representatives of the state prosecutor and defense experts warned the members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that unless the law is enacted the government will face "a torrent of litigation" which could seriously deplete the state treasury. They tossed out an estimate of a billion shekels. They spoke of lawyers who were virtually litigations contractors and said that the danger of high compensation awards was real because courts tended to rule in favor of generous compensation (for example, the compensation for the loss of an eye has recently climbed from NIS 80,000 to NIS 280,000). They warned that the economy would not be able to stand the strain., Perhaps unintentionally, the supporters of the law are presenting the courts as an empty vessel bereft of reasoning powers and are pushing for retroactive legislation (the law would apply also to those who have already initiated legal action).

Various bizarre reasons have been summoned to justify this draconian law. For example, the Intifada has been defined as a wartime operation. If so, why should those imprisoned and detained in the course of the Intifada not be given the status of prisoners of war? Are we ready for such a move? Israel is playing with the law and with morality for the sake of convenience, especially since the issue involves Palestinians., Former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, who opposes the law, last week spoke out against the lack of distinction being made between police actions under military occupation and a military operation in wartime. "History will be the judge of our actions in the territories, and this law will make the judgment even more severe," he said., The dean of Hebrew University's law faculty, Prof. Uriel Procaccia criticized the law's intrinsic anti-Palestinian bias. "The only reason being touted to justify this law is the fact that the names of the victims are Daoud, Ibrahim and Yusef. If their names were David, Abraham and Yosef, no one would ever consider proposing such a law and, were it passed, the Supreme Court of Justice would have no alternative but to reject it totally as violating the basic rights of the individual to the protection of life, limb and property, as established in the Basic Law: Human Dignity.", Consider the facts. Most victims of the Intifada have never presented any claim for compensation, and most of them have no intention of doing so. The road leading from some remote refugee camp to the halls of Israeli justice is long and difficult., Moreover, even without the new law, most of them are not eligible to receive compensation because they must prove that their suffering was caused by negligence and not as the result of attempts to protect the lives of Israeli soldiers., The present statute of limitations, which is now seven years (the law's proponents want it cut to one year), does not justify the panic over the prospect of thousands of suits. Many Intifada victims were injured during the early years of the uprising, more than seven years ago., Nonetheless, the state prosecution is ready to sanction this injustice, defense experts are pressing for a speedy legislative procedure, and the Knesset will pass the law. From now on, judges presiding over civil suits in Netanya or Jerusalem will have to examine the ethnic identity of all plaintiffs, and there will one torts law for residents of the state and another for residents of the territories.

The entire right-wing, with the support of members of the Labor faction in the Knesset led by Ehud Barak, have found that the partition of the Land of Israel has some advantages. The proposed law will shut a window of humane opportunity, one of the few still remaining to the Palestinians who are suffering the double burden of closure and military occupation.

It is also closing off another opportunity for preserving our moral image: a state that invests NIS 2.18 billion yearly in the rehabilitation of its handicapped veterans is not prepared to allocate another few million shekels to Palestinian children and youth, who were the innocent victims of actions undertaken by that state.

The blind youth, Ashraf Ibrahim of the Nur A-Sham refugee camp; the family of the dead 13-year-old girl, Rufeida Abu Laben, from Daheisheh; or the 13 orphans of Muhammad and Ismail Abadin are deserving of compensation. But Israel is not willing to consider any compensation for the major and still bleeding injustices of 1948 and is now evading the possibility of making a small compensation for much smaller injustices. The Bible instructs us "Do no wrong to the stranger, the fatherless nor the widow." The proponents of this law act as if they've never heard of such a principle



(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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