They Say/We Say: "There are two sets of laws in the West Bank – one for settlers and one for Palestinians"

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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They Say, We Say: Why should we be worried about Israeli democracy?

They Say:

The US Ambassador to Israel (speaking in January 2016) was wrong to suggest that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has two sets of laws in the West Bank – one for settlers and one for Palestinians.

We Say:The criticism by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized Ambassador Shapiro’s statement, like Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s demand he retract it, is about politics, not about truth. The dual legal system in the West Bank is a matter of uncontestable fact, not one of allegations or perspective.

Since 1967, Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under the rule of the Israeli military. The legal system that governs their lives is a combination of Israeli regular and emergency military orders, Jordanian law adopted by Israel, and even old Ottoman law (used, for example, as the basis for seizing Palestinian land). This means that Palestinians who are accused of crimes are tried in military courts, where they enjoy few rights and protections.

In contrast, Israelis living in West Bank settlements, while technically also falling under military rule, in reality, enjoy extra-territorial application of Israeli law in most matters by virtue of Knesset legislation,. This means that settlers who are accused of crimes in the West Bank are tried in Israeli courts, in which they enjoy the far-reaching rights and protections offered by a democratic nation to its citizens. Israel’s preeminent human rights watchdog, B’tselem, describes the situation as follows:

…Being subject to the Israeli judicial system, settlers enjoy liberties and legal guarantees that are denied Palestinian defendants in the Occupied Territories charged with the same offense. The authority to arrest an individual, the maximum period of detention before being brought before a judge, the right to meet with an attorney, the protections available to defendants at trial, the maximum punishment allowed by law, and the release of prisoners before completion of their sentence – all of these differ greatly in the two systems of law, with the Israeli system providing the suspect and defendant with many more protections. Thus, different legal systems are applied to two populations residing in the same area, and the nationality of the individual determines the system and court in which he or she is tried. This situation violates the principle of equality before the law, especially given the disparity between the two systems…

As a result of these different legal systems, Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank have very different rights under law and very different outcomes when they run afoul of the law, even for the same violations. Most glaringly, Israelis are tried in Israeli courts, where they are presumed innocent until proven guilty and enjoy far-reaching protections as citizens. Palestinians are tried in military courts, where procedures are much less stringent, and where they are almost always convicted.