Over the past twenty years, Israel has taken measures to guarantee a nearly blanket exemption from its obligation under international law to pay compensation to Palestinians harmed by its security forces. In a new report released today (Wednesday, 8 March), B’Tselem traces the development of this practice and illustrates how it has led to a major drop in the number of claims for damages Palestinians filed in recent years. Israel’s policy reflects how little value it places on the lives, bodies and property of Palestinians living under its control.
In December 2011, during a demonstration in the West Bank village of a-Nabi Saleh, a soldier killed resident Mustafa a-Tamimi by firing a tear-gas canister directly at him, in breach of regulation. Last month, some three years after the MAG Corps closed the case without pressing any charges, the Jerusalem District Court denied the suit for damages filed by a-Tamimi’s family. The court found that a-Tamimi’s death was the result of “warfare activity” and ordered the family to pay NIS 60,000 [over USD 16,000] for the state’s court costs. A new B’Tselem report released today, Getting Off Scot-Free: Israel’s Refusal to Compensate Palestinians for Damages Caused by Its Security Forces, traces the development of the nearly blanket exemption from paying damages that the state arranged for itself, which also enabled it to evade paying damages in this case. By passing legislation that broadens the legal definition of what constitutes “warfare activity” that exempts the state from liability, introducing a series of procedural and evidentiary restrictions, and inclusive construal of these amendments by the courts, Israel has rendered virtually nonexistent the chances of Palestinian plaintiffs currently getting compensation for the harm they suffered.
Through these actions, Israel has lowered the price to be paid for harm to Palestinians while maintaining a false show of a functioning justice system. Figures the Ministry of Defense provided B’Tselem concerning compensation suits filed against the state by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza show that from 1997 to 2001 the state paid an annual average of 21.6 million shekels (approx. USD 5.7 million); from 2012 to 2016, it paid an average of about 3.8 million shekels (approx. USD 1 million) – a decline of more than 80%. At the same time, Palestinians all but stopped filing new claims with the courts: 2002 to 2006 saw an annual average of 300 new lawsuits, while 2012 to 2016 saw an annual average of 18 claims – a drop of nearly 95%.
Israel continues to control millions of Palestinians who live in Gaza and in the West Bank, and there is no body or authority in place to hold it accountable for its actions: The military law enforcement system whitewashes offenses, the High Court gives a legal seal of approval for violating Palestinians’ human rights, and the state has guaranteed itself an all but absolute exemption from paying compensation to Palestinians injured by its security forces. There are few kinds of injustice that cannot be codified in law, and it is possible to establish systems that offer no more than a pretense of law enforcement. Yet it is impossible to fully conceal the reality of the occupation, including the measures that Israel takes to evade responsibility and ensure a sweeping exemption – with no legal, administrative, or civilian accountability – for violent harm to the Palestinians who live under its control.