Rabin tramples on Israeli law: Palestinians' access in Israeli courts to redress for human rights violations has always been extremely limited. Sarah Helm reports from Jerusalem

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The Independent Online
THE deportation of 418 Palestinians without charge or trial showed the readiness of the Israeli Prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to ride roughshod over not only international law but also over Israel's own legal institutions, in particular the Supreme Court.

The fact that an appeal has been launched suggests the government may be allowing its decisions to be subject to the checks and balances of a democratic system. The court is due to rule today. But this is a charade. The government first attempted to circumvent any legal process by banishing the Palestinians in secret, during the night. Mr Rabin's decision was strategic, and bypassing the law was as much a part of the strategy as anything else.

The rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories to legal redress for human rights violations have always been extremely limited. Since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been governed by military order. The military authorities have introduced more than 1,300 such orders in the West Bank and 1,000 in the Gaza Strip relating to all aspects of life, including powers of arrest and detention.

Military courts, presided over by military officers often without legal qualifications, enforce the orders. In addition, the government applies emergency legislation enacted by the British during the mandate over Palestine. The British say this law was revoked in 1948, when the mandate ended.

But Israel has always cited the old British law to justify deportations rather than make its own military orders. 'For the media it is better that it is British law they are using. It makes it seem more acceptable,' says Raja Shehadeh, the founder of the human rights organisation Al Haq, who was called to the English bar at Lincoln's Inn.

Deportation has always been the harshest sanction in the Israeli battery of laws and regulations. Since 1967, 1,200 Palestinians have been banished by Israel. The obvious alternative - imprisonment - allows suspects to recruit more supporters behind bars and spread their message. Deportation is instant exile that punishes - and the Israelis hope deters - the families as well.

'My moral sense is outraged by deportation,' said Mr Shehadeh. 'It is saying in this case you are all Hamas, not individuals, so we will dump you.'

To challenge occupation laws the Palestinians can look to the Israeli High Court or Supreme Court, or complain to international bodies about breaches of international law. Neither avenue has ever done much good. In the early 1970s Palestinian lawyers debated whether to seek redress in Israeli courts. Some argued that to do so would be to give Israel opportunity to legitimise the occupation. Others thought that if the chance existed, it should be taken.

In recent years more appeals have been brought and some limited safeguards for Palestinians have been established by the Supreme Court. One of these was the right to a fair hearing before a deportation was carried out. However, when this precedent was cited in the present case the government argued that special security needs overrode such precedents.

In a decision that disappointed both Palestinian lawyers and Israeli human rights activists, the court failed to stand up for its own precedents, bowing long enough to let the deportations go ahead.

Israeli troops shot and killed a 10-year-old Palestinian boy after youths defied an army curfew and took to the streets in the Gaza Strip, throwing stones and bottles at soldiers, AP reports.