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NGO: Israel evades compensating wounded Palestinians amounting to 'cost-free occupation'

March 8, 2017 10:02 A.M. (Updated: March 8, 2017 3:12 P.M.)
A Palestinian youth is evacuated after being injured during clashes at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 13, 2015 (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
By: Chloe Benoist

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel has purposefully introduced legislation over the past twenty years to avoid paying compensation to Palestinians who have been injured by Israeli forces, Israeli NGO B’Tselem said in a report made public on Wednesday, revealing that the amendments had led to a 95 percent decline in filed claims in the span of a decade.

While both international and Israeli civil law hold the state responsible for damages or injuries caused by its security forces as a result of “negligence,” B’Tselem stated that Israel had begun a legislative process in the mid-1990s to both expand legal exemptions and to discourage Palestinians from filing claims.

B’Tselem Research Director Yael Stein emphasized in a press conference on Tuesday that Israel has notably broadened its definition of what circumstances fall under “warfare activity” -- a category in which the state is deemed not liable for any damages caused -- to engineer a “cost-free occupation.”

“Today, the definition is so wide that almost any activity by Israeli security forces in the (occupied Palestinian) territories is under this definition,” Stein explained, listing “simple policing work” such as checkpoints, detention raids, and protest suppression as now being defined as “warfare activity.”

Stein added that a number of legal and bureaucratic hurdles were also intended to discourage Palestinians from filing claims -- including a far shorter statute of limitations, heavy court fees, and the need for Palestinians from the occupied territory to apply for hard-to-obtain travel permits to be able to attend court hearings in Israel.

As a result, the report revealed, the number of Palestinian claims for compensation fell from an average of 300 a year between 2002 and 2006 to a mere 18 between 2012 and 2016 -- a 94 percent decrease.

The amount of money paid by the state of Israel in compensation to Palestinians has also drastically decreased, with Israeli payments going from 21.6 million shekels ($5.8 million) on average each year between 1997 and 2001, to only 3.8 million shekels ($1.03 million) yearly between 2012 and 2016.

The drop was particularly pronounced for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where B’Tselem said compensations received were 97 percent less than 15 years earlier.

“Israel’s policy on paying compensation to Palestinians who suffered harm reflects its profound contempt for the life, safety, and property of Palestinians in the occupied territories,” the report read.

“The denial of access to justice means… that all Palestinians know all the time that it almost doesn’t matter what is going to happen, they will have no recourse to justice,” B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad said on Tuesday.

B’Tselem highlighted the dishonesty of Israel arguing that the Palestinian Authority (PA) should bear the costs of damage incurred by its civilians, as is customary in other armed conflicts between two nations, due the extremely limited powers granted to the PA under the Oslo Accords.

“Israel cannot reassign responsibility for the injuries it causes and act as though the Palestinian Authority were a sovereign state,” the report stated. “Israel is well aware of the reality of occupation which it created and continues to maintain… However, to justify evading payment of compensation, the state is willing to change its tune and declare the Palestinian Authority has state-like status -- all the while changing nothing in its actual treatment of the Palestinian Authority or its residents.”

Meanwhile, the double standard of Israel invoking payments that are distributed by the Palestinian government to wounded Palestinians and the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to justify forgoing compensations is made all the more blatant given Israel and the United States’ vocal opposition to such payment programs.

“One of (Israel’s) main claims is that ‘we pay for ours and they pay for theirs,’ which of course is not a valid claim, you cannot talk here about two equal sides,” Stein told Ma’an. “But actually, Israel is withholding all the money that the PA is giving to the injured. So they use it in order to justify this legislation, then say that the PA is giving all this money to terrorists… Israel is playing both ways here.”

B’Tselem also took issue with Israel’s argument that the issue of compensation to Palestinians should be discussed as part of a final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Israel is doing all in its power to prevent the end of the occupation and to establish facts on the ground that will prevent reaching any agreement with the Palestinians,” the report read. “Proposing that the tens of thousands of people injured during this half-century wait for the occupation (of the West Bank and East Jerusalem) to end and for ‘negotiations’ to be concluded is tantamount to assuring that they will never receive any compensation.”

B’Tselem concluded that Israel “does not offer Palestinians harmed by its security forces a genuine opportunity to file for damages in Israeli courts, offering them no more than the illusion of being able to do so.”

“Paying compensation to persons who have suffered injury to themselves or their property is not an act of charity -- it is the state’s obligation under international law,” the report stressed.

“The significance of human rights is not limited to merely having them entrenched in some law or international covenant. If no sanctions are enforced when human rights are breached, the rights become moot and the perpetrators have no incentive to institute a change in policy.”
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