10442513_880437961985540_7092210030740489377_nThe IDF confiscates money from a blind Palestinian woman, forcing her to appeal to the HCJ in an attempt to get it back

About two weeks ago, we filed a petition to the HCJ, which is unusual even given the cases we regularly deal with; it deals with Kafkaesque behavior by the security forces. We are petitioning on behalf of Akhlas Sayel Mustafa A-Shatiyeh and her sister, Suhad Sayel Mustafa A-Shatiye.

The story of the sisters is unique. Akhlas was born blind, and their father – Sayel Jabara A-Shatiye – was killed in 2004 by a settler, Yehoshua Elizur, a resident of the settlement of Itamar. He was convicted of homicide, but – lo and behold – managed to escape Israel before he began serving his sentence.

Despite this background, Akhlas managed to finish a master’s degree in English and literature, and served as a counselor for female students suffering from disabilities, in the University of Beir Zeit. Presently she works as an investigator for the Stars of Hope Society, a Palestinian NGO promoting the rights of disabled women. She is often sent on behalf of the Society to conferences abroad; her sister Suhad accompanies her and aids her.

Last December, the sisters arrived at Allenby Checkpoint, after Akhlas represented the Society at a UN conference promoting the political rights of disabled women in Jordan. Arriving at the checkpoint, they found themselves under interrogation, which lasted eight hours. At the end of it, the army confiscated all of the money held by the sisters, refusing to leave them even enough money to return home, forcing them to spend the night outside, in the cold. In total, the army seized a sum of some 5,000 NIS. The sisters presented the soldiers with receipts, showing some of the money was travel expenditure they received, and that the rest was given to them by their mother in order to purchase gifts in Amman; but the army claims the money is of “an unallowed association,” and issued a confiscation order.

And here another problem came up. Until recently, a Palestinian whose property was confiscated by our troops, could turn to the military courts in the West Bank and demand it back. Since 2013, Amendment nr. 36 to the Order Regarding Security Provisions is in force, and it reads: “The decision of the Military Commander, according to Article 61, or the decision of the Military Commander to seize, sell or confiscate property, according to the Defense (Emergency) Regulations – 1945, cannot be appealed before the military court, and is final.” In other words, if the army decides to seize your property, there’s nothing you can do.

Hence, the A-Shatiye sisters had no choice but to petition the HCJ, demanding inter alia the cancellation of the draconian Amendment nr. 36. It’s important to note that in many cases, the cost of an appeal to the HCJ is greater than that of the confiscated sum, so this route is also Kafkaesque; you have to lose money to get yours. Furthermore, an appeal to the HCJ requires either an Israeli advocate, or an entrance permit into Israel. This is one more factor which may cause the prospective claimant to give up his property, where formerly he might just have appealed to the military court. Our petition against Amendment nr. 36, it should be mentioned, follows two previous petitions on this issue by the Center for the Defense of the Individual, also demanding its repeal.

When the A-Shatiye sisters tried to understand why their money was confiscated, the Legal Advisor to the territories of Judea and Samaria (LAJS) replied that it did so “in light of reliable, double-checked intelligence presented to him, which shows that these are funds belonging to an association that is not allowed,” and hence the confiscation was appropriate. This information, needless to say, was not presented to the A-Shatiye sisters.

As our petition states, “it was also noted that even when the petitioners were allegedly given the right to present their arguments in writing before the bureau of the LAJS, they were forced to do so without having any knowledge of what charges were alleged against them, and therefore could not defend themselves. The petitioners were not informed of any relevant information on which the intent to confiscate was based, a fact that fatally harmed their right to argue, and in fact, to this day they do not know why the respondent reached the conclusion that their money belongs to an unallowed association. […] the petitioners were asked to defend themselves against vague accusations, the nature of which was not detailed, and based on documents they were not allowed to review.”

If the government of Israel wants to confiscate the A-Shatiye sisters’ money, it should act as a civilized country, not as the heir to Kafka’s court: let it stand in open court and present its evidence. A person’s right to know what crime he is being punished for, and his right to defend himself against an accusation, is a fundamental right, without which you cannot speak of a trial, but at most of a kangaroo court. The same goes for Amendment nr. 36, which allows the Military Commander to confiscate property without being accountable to anyone.

As a human rights organization, we find ourselves in an unusual position: petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court so it might restore to the military courts, which are not known for doing justice to say the least, authorities stripped away from them. And yet, this new situation is considerably worse than its predecessor, and leaves us no choice.