Palestinians barred from appealing property confiscation in Israeli military court 14Jan14 January 14, 2014

Haaretz    -    13 January 2014

1414597971Palestinians have been prohibited from challenging military court decisions to confiscate their property, under a new injunction signed last month by the head of the Israeli military’s Central Command.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon’s order came on December 25 following a recommendation by the military prosecution.

Judicial review of West Bank confiscations is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which the military says is consistent with long-standing government policy.

Under Israeli security legislation governing the West Bank, the military commander or anyone he authorizes can confiscate property or money implicated in illegal activity. The property or money goes to the regional treasury and is appropriated for public use. While the law allows the military and police to impound funds believed to belong to terror groups, it’s also used to confiscate vehicles that illegally transport laborers into Israel as well the equipment used by thieves.

Until now, Palestinians could appeal confiscations in Israel’s West Bank military courts. The authority of the military courts to consider such appeals was anchored in a 2010 decision by the Ofer Military Appeals Court, which ordered the return of a pneumatic drill to a Palestinian after police had taken it. Col. Aharon Mishnayot presided over the court that made the decision but Col. Netanel Beniso, who is the current appeals court president, dissented. Beniso wrote a minority opinion saying the Central Command chief should establish a separate channel for appealing confiscations.

Under the advice of the military prosecution, Alon decided to block appeals, effectively overruling the military court.

Despite Alon’s injunction, Palestinians have an avenue for appeal in the Supreme Court, but it’s a cumbersome process. For one, Palestinian lawyers are permitted to represent clients at the military court but they cannot submit appeals to the Supreme Court, which means an Israeli lawyer must be hired at a high cost. On top of that, there is a fee to appeal to the Supreme Court, whereas the military courts are free.

Whether Palestinians have the legal right to appeal confiscation in military court, and not just in the Supreme court is disputed.

The Israel Defenses Forces said Alon’s injunction brings the appeal process in line with Israeli law, which gives the Supreme Court authority to review any terror-related property confiscation in the West Bank and in Israel.

But legal experts told Haaretz the law also affords Palestinians the right to appeal in military courts as long as they file within three days.

Mishnayot, the military judge, told Haaretz he still stands behind his 2010 ruling.

“In a situation of a military government, in which the military commander serves both as the legislative branch and the executive branch, the judicial branch must be strengthened to strike a balance of powers,” he said. “I’m not convinced [the new order] goes in that direction, but legislative branch has the right to his say. Perhaps the issue will reach the Supreme Court so it can comment.”

Zahava Gal-On, head of the left-wing Meretz party, called on Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to intervene and reverse the military order.

“The injunction erases all trace of due process and contradicts the rule of law,” she said. “The injunction makes the arbitrary power of the occupation absolute, and it is therefore thoroughly corrupt and corrupting.”

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