Criminal Justice in the Occupied Territories
Local law in the occupied territories combined Jordanian and
Ottoman legislation and regulations from the Mandate period, greatly
extended by Israeli military orders affecting a broad range of
political and social activities. The law applied to most criminal
and civil matters in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, local law
was based mainly on British mandatory law, as modified by Israel.
Palestinians accused of nonsecurity offenses were tried in the
local Arab court system, which consisted of nine magistrate courts,
three district courts, and the one Court of Appeal in Ram Allah
in the West Bank. In 1985 the magistrate courts decided more than
36,000 cases, the district courts more than 1,300 cases, and the
Court of Appeal 1,600 cases. Local courts had no power in cases
involving land, and Israeli residents could not be brought to
trial or sued in them. Any judicial proceeding could be halted
and transferred to a military court by the military government.
The local courts had low standing, lacking the means to execute
court decisions, with the result that in many cases judgments
were not implemented.
The Israeli court system was empowered, under emergency regulations
enacted by the Knesset, to try offenses committed in the occupied
territories by Israelis and foreign visitors. Israeli citizens
were tried under Israeli law, and were immune from charges based
on local law. Military courts were empowered to try residents
of the occupied territories for criminal offenses based on local
law and security offenses as defined in military government regulations.
Military courts were generally composed of three judges, one of
whom must be a lawyer. Occasionally, a single military judge tried
cases in which the maximum sentence did not exceed five years.
There was no appeal from judgments of the military courts. In
early 1988, the Supreme Court urged that an appeal system be established,
although it did not have the power to impose such a change. This
recommendation was rejected by the government as a budgetary burden
and a sign of weakness in the campaign against terrorism.
Persons held on security grounds were not granted bail and were
denied access to counsel or other outside contacts for a period
of eighteen days, during which they could be held in custody without
formal charges. Access could be denied indefinitely if the authorities
believed access would impede the investigation. Many security
cases involved secret evidence, access to which was denied to
the accused and to his attorney. Convictions often were based
on confessions recorded in Hebrew, which most prisoners did not
International human rights organizations complained of systematic
mistreatment of prisoners held on security grounds. Amnesty International
reported that agents of Shin Bet extracted confessions by beatings,
extended solitary confinement, immersion in cold water, and "hoodings."
In most security cases, confessions were the only evidence leading
The military authorities also could impose administrative detentions
and deportations. Administrative detentions normally had required
confirmation by a military judge, but this step was abolished
in 1988. During 1987, 120 Palestinians were subjected to administrative
detention and 9 were deported. As a result of the violence during
1988, however, these measures were applied on a large scale. During
the first six months of 1988, at least 18,000 Palestinians were
taken into custody at various times; of about 5,000 Palestinians
being held at mid-year, nearly half were administrative detainees.
A further thirty-five had been deported. It was often difficult
for relatives or lawyers to obtain confirmation of the detention
or learn where the detainee was being held. Detentions could be
appealed before a military judge whose decision was final. The
brief appeal hearing was described as little more than a ritual.
Data as of December 1988