For the first time, Palestine to consider legal action against Israeli settlers

Days of Palestine - Ramallah

Palestinian Minister of Justice Muhammad Shalalda said today that the Palestinian judiciary will start within days to consider cases related to violations committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinian citizens.

He told WAFA that the Ministry of Justice, and in cooperation with other government agencies and civil society institutions, will facilitate the task of victims of Israeli settlers to take legal actions against the settlers, explaining that according to the Palestinian Basic Law any citizen whose rights are violated has the right to file a lawsuit at the Palestinian courts.

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He indicated that work is underway to collect criminal evidence and affidavits to file the first lawsuit against known settlers for committing crimes and violations against Palestinians citizens of the old town of Hebron and in Burin village, south of Nablus.

Shalalda said that the Palestinian cabinet has decided "to form a national team to hold accountable and prosecute settlers who commit crimes against the Palestinian people before the Palestinian courts following the decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to forgo the Israeli and American agreements and understandings."

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He indicated that the Palestinian courts will consider issuing decisions and rulings against settlers to demand civil liability related to compensation for damages in order to consecrate the concept of state sovereignty over the occupied territory and to complement the acceptance of Palestine as a non-member state in the United Nations, in addition to strengthening the concept of jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He stressed that the rulings issued by the Palestinian courts, if not implemented and respected by the occupation authorities, will be proof and evidence for their implementation before the countries whose nationalities are held by the settlers, and will support going to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which provides for complementary jurisdiction, meaning that victims of violations have exhausted all constitutional national steps, and decided to refer the implementation of rulings to the ICC.

The decisions issued by the Palestinian courts will also be evidence of criminal acts to be submitted to any other international criminal court if Israel does not respect the application of the court decisions.

The minister said that “according to the national legislation in Palestine, and based on the Code of Civil and Commercial Procedure, there are provisions for the prosecution of a foreigner, which applies to the settler who resides within the Palestinian territorial jurisdiction over the occupied land, and therefore we have the right to sue him based on the notion that settlement is a war crime, punishable by law in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, and based on the statute of the International Criminal Court."

The victims will file lawsuits before the Palestinian courts of first instance in the various governorates, and the Israeli side will be addressed as an occupying state to appear before the Palestinian courts. In case the other party refuses the jurisdiction of the Palestinian courts, formal procedures will be followed at courts and rulings will be issued in absentia in accordance with Palestinian laws and legislation, he said.

Minister of Justice Shalalda stressed that Palestinian judges, when deciding on the lawsuits, will not rely solely on Palestinian legislation, but also on international agreements and treaties to which Palestine has acceded, and which the occupying power has signed.

He indicated that every state is obligated, according to the statute of the International Criminal Court, to prosecute those who committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity based on the text of Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates that states are obligated to enact national legislation in their laws to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes, genocides and crimes against humanity, regardless of where the crime occurred or its nationality.

According to this text, said Shalalda, "states include in their legislation what allows them to pursue those who commit these crimes. But in the most serious cases that are committed against the Palestinian people, it is possible to go to the International Criminal Court because the Israeli judiciary is mostly politicized, and therefore, we in the Palestinian judiciary can directly file lawsuits before the International Criminal Court."

He stressed that the issue is not limited to settler attacks but also to issues that have to do with withholding the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israelis. The occupation authorities will be sued for civil liability, reparation, and compensation for the calamity the families undergo as a result of withholding the bodies of their loved ones, in addition to the file of more than 200 foreign companies operating in the settlements, and files related to the prosecution of dual-national settlers before the judiciary of the country of their citizenship.

Shalalda explained that this is a legal and judicial struggle that complements the popular resistance as well as political and economic struggle leading to ensuring that no one escapes from punishment, especially those who committed crimes against the Palestinian people, starting with the British Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, and ending with the crimes of the occupying Power.

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