Diana Atallah
The Media Line
March 4, 2013 - 1:00am

Ramallah -- When a Palestinian court ordered a government center in 2011 to remove garbage they disposed of on lands belonging to Majid Zaher (not his real name) near Ramallah, he thought his case was over.

Little did he know that the court's decision, which was eight years in the making, would still not be implemented today. Instead, piles of bricks, iron bars and other construction materials still lie in his land overlooking a green valley in Betunia. Meanwhile he waits for the local municipality to implement the ruling of the Palestinian court. "I write in the media and on Facebook trying to lobby for my case," he told The Media Line.

Indeed, at a time when Palestinians strive to adhere to international principles of justice and prosecution, they initially stress the fairness of their justice system, but admit there are areas needing improvement. Some argue that court decisions are not always considered sacred and not scrupulously implemented.

A recent report by the Independent Commission for Human Rights documented stalling in executing some court orders, a violation of the Basic Palestinian Law. Commission representatives said most cases were resolved after their intervention.

However observers say that the state of law in the Palestinian territories isn't where is should be and that the Palestinian justice system is similar to that of developing countries. Palestinian Deputy Attorney-General Ashraf Erekat told The Media Line that the justice system is always in need of improvement, but that the Palestinian Authority works to resolve any claims of violations.

Attorney and Birzeit University law professor Ahmed Nasra hinted at favoritism when it comes to implementing the court orders and said that some parties that don't abide by court decisions don't get punished or detained. "People also fear troubles so they don't follow up on their court orders," he added.

He also expressed the difficulty in judging the transparency of the Palestinian justice system. "Most important is the manifestation of justice. People don't trust our system and herein lies the problem," Nasra told The Media Line.

There are currently 34 civil courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the courts of first instance, magistrates' courts, appeals courts and the supreme courts. There are separate legal systems for the criminal and civil courts.

The Sharia courts deal with personal status laws like divorce cases and inheritance, military courts prosecute policemen and security personnel, while state security courts deal with issues related to general security.

According to a comprehensive study conducted in 2012 by "Musawa," the Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, 50% of Palestinians said they trust the Palestinian regular courts, while 70% said they trust Sharia courts.

Musawa, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) observing the justice system, publishes the periodical "Eye on Justice" which states all violations of laws in the justice system.

Musawa head Ibrahim Barghouti told The Media Line that "the Israeli occupation is the first obstacle facing the Palestinian justice system as it deprives Palestinians of their sovereignty." He explained that classifying the Palestinian lands into areas A, B, and C "limits the authority of the justice system. The judiciary police can’t arrest, execute orders, or inform defendants to go to court in areas B or C [under Israeli security control], The police are not allowed to work or wear their uniform in these areas.”

However, he added that the current political split between Fatah and Hamas has also had ramifications on the justice system, especially when it comes to the death penalty. Since 2006 the PA in the West Bank has refrained from carrying out death sentences handed down by the courts, with the president replacing that sentence with long-term imprisonment.

On the other hand, Gaza Strip authorities still carry out the death sentences, against the Basic Palestinian Law which states they cannot be carried out without the PA president's ratification. Instead a consultative committee of judges and jurists was established in 2009 in the Gaza Strip and given responsibility for issuing such sentences, without approval from any other party.

The Palestinian Legislative Council hasn't met since 2007 after Hamas and Fatah split, and the latest changes in the law have been made by presidential orders. The PA president is empowered to issue decisions considered laws in such cases when the council hasn't met, under the condition that the laws are approved by the parliament when it's reassembled.

However, such action by the PA president, the head of the executive authority, in passing laws is seen as an expansion of his legislative authorities and a blurring of the judicial and executive authorities.

Barghouti says there is still interference between the three authorities. "We see a growing influence of the security forces over the justice system, and some of those detained by the PA have release orders from the courts, but these orders are not executed," he said.

He added that the Palestinian public also doesn't see the justice system as a fair system because of the hiring criteria at the courts.  The comprehensive study by Musawa shows that people suspect that some judges are hired based on their political affiliation, meaning those affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank are excluded, or based on personal relations.


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