RHR’s Legal Department was established in 2004 and today it includes lawyers, volunteer field activists, and law students on a permanent basis. The department deals with cases in various areas of the West Bank, and currently focuses on the South Hebron Hills area. The department provides consultation and legal representation to Palestinians on issues of access to private lands, prevention of and evacuation during land take over, policy planning, home demolitions and violations of international law in the territories. The legal services include ongoing follow up with the legal authorities, the army, the police etc… and also appeals to the Supreme Court and to committees of the Civil Administration.
The Main Issues of the Legal Department
Preventing the Access of Palestinian Farmers to their Lands
The access of Palestinian farmers to their lands is systematically prevented by settlers and by the security forces. Violent residents from settlements and illegal outposts use intimidation methods, threats with weapons and firearms, crop destruction, and even physical violence, in order to expel Palestinian farmers and shepherds from their lands. Although the ruler’s duty is to keep the public order, the army and the police do not prevent the expulsions and even actually help them, although there is no legal basis for it. At the request of the settlers, soldiers expel Palestinian farmers from their lands and the police officers do not do their job. They do not investigate the crimes involved in this expulsion and do not bring the criminals to justice. After the forced expulsion, the lawbreakers invade our clients’ lands and take them over in order to violently and without any legal basis, determine facts on the ground. Lately the violent wave in the area became intensified. People were attacked with knives and stones, and vehicles’ and tractors’ wheels were destroyed. The Legal Department is obligated to see to it that the State will defend the Palestinians’ lands and will return to them land that was robbed. The department’s lawyers are in contact with the relevant law enforcement authorities and represent their clients in courts.
Planning and Home Demolitions Policy in the West Bank
Among other things, the international law requires a conquering state to keep the public order and ensure the welfare of the conquered residents by planning. Despite this, the planning and building policy in the West Bank does not allow the Palestinians to receive building permits and therefore they build without permits. We do not talk about Palestinians’ criminal acts, but about violation of international treaties that Israel signed and ratified and regarding hurting protected residents. The injustice is visibly grating when in the settlements there are houses, sports fields and swimming pools only a few meters from the tin shacks and tents for which their owners received demolition orders. The Legal Department submitted appeals to the Supreme Court in order to prevent demolition of Palestinian buildings, starting with tin shacks, toilets, pens, and pools for accumulating water and finishing with residences, mosques and schools. The department also demands that the state makes plans for Palestinian villages in order to change the policy and prevent future demolitions. The department is also involved in the Palestinian residents’ planning initiatives.
Appeals on the basis of the International and Human Rights Law Violations
The legal department appeals against international and human rights law violations by the State of Israel and the Israeli authorities in the occupied territories. For example, appeals on the issues of the separation fence, “security” barriers in the West Bank, permanent residency in the seam area and expelling residents from their villages, were submitted.