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Sanctions No Replacement For Israeli Justice

sanctions against Israel residents of West Bank
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Recently the U.S. government announced sanctions against four Jewish residents of the West Bank. They will be prohibited from entering the United States, and also any assets they have in the U.S. will be frozen. Shortly after that Britain followed suit, and then France banned 24 West Bank settlers from entering the country.

The reason is what has become a wave of settler violence against Palestinians. This includes direct physical attacks, theft, intimidation, and forcing Palestinians off their land. According to the U.S. Department of State, one of the targeted individuals, Yinon Levy, regularly led groups of settlers that assaulted Palestinians, then threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property. Another, David Chai Chasdai, initiated and led a riot which involved setting vehicles and buildings on fire, assaulting Palestinian civilians, and causing damage to property in the Palestinian city of Huwara which resulted in the death of a Palestinian civilian. The others face similar accusations.

No matter what anyone’s views are on the peace process or what the ultimate political status of the West Bank should be, there is no justification for these types of attacks. They are violations of Palestinians’ human rights and crimes which must be punished.

Violation of Due Process Rights

But while the intention behind these American and European sanctions is good, there is a major problem. The sanctions are punishments for committing crimes. This means that in order to respect the human rights of the accused, the accused are entitled to due process of law.

The U.S. State Department said that information leading to the sanction on these four individuals was obtained from public reporting, court documents, and intelligence. We are not told what this information is and there is no way to know how reliable it may be. More important, the accused themselves are not given the opportunity to confront the evidence against them, dispute whatever they say is not true, or bring evidence in their favor. That is their right.

These sanctions are such a violation of fundamental legal protections they can only be imposed against non-citizens. Since foreigners enter a country as guests with no right to be admitted, governments can deny visas at will. The United States has a complicated legal framework for freezing foreigners’ assets. But the U.S. government cannot subject a citizen to such treatment without first going to court. This means that Israelis who also have U.S. citizenship cannot be subject to these sanctions, and there are a substantial number of dual citizens living in the West Bank.

In explanation for imposing these sanctions, the British foreign office stated that, “Israel’s failure to act had led to an environment of near total impunity for settler extremists, with violence in the West Bank reaching record levels.” This is why Britain feels the need to impose sanctions against settlers on its own.

This may be true, but no government has the means to punish crimes committed in another country without violating the rights of the accused. Diplomats sitting thousands of miles away cannot decide who is guilty and who is innocent just by reading the news. Trying to do so will inevitably lead to gross unfairness. And a system of punishment that comes down harshly on violators who are only Israeli while completely exempting dual citizens will be both unfair and ineffective too.

Israel Must Act

In protesting these sanctions, the office of Israel’s Prime Minister released a statement saying that, “Israel acts against all violators of the law in all places, and therefore there is no place for drastic steps on this matter.” Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, incidents of settler violence against Palestinians have been going up sharply, to the point where it says there are now three per day. These incident are rising in seriousness as well. Nevertheless, they claim that only 6% of reports to Israeli authorities received any follow-up at all.

Israel is the only country that can administer justice in the West Bank in a way that is impartial, fair, and in keeping with the rights of the accused. That Israel is failing to do so, to the point that other countries are trying to step in and take its place, is causing a situation in which Israel’s own citizens are deprived of their basic right to due process of law. It also exposes to the world that Israel is failing shamefully at its most basic duty of maintaining law and order and ensuring public safety in all areas under its control. There is no excuse for that, and foreign governments cannot and should not solve this problem. Israel has to start protecting West Bank Palestinians and prosecuting anyone who commits crimes against them right away.

About the Author
Shlomo Levin received Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and Yeshivat Hamivtar, and an M.A. in International Law and Human RIghts from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. He is the author of the Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights human rights issues in the Passover story with Jewish and secular sources along and questions for discussion. Learn more at http://www.hrhaggadah.com.
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