Since 1967 Israel has operated a military regime in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. In 1981 Israel set up a civilian administration as a separate branch of the military government. This further integrated these territories into Israel’s administrative and legal infrastructure.

The laws which govern the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories include Ottoman, British Mandatory and Jordanian (West Bank) or Egyptian (Gaza). Israel reinstated the Mandate-era Emergency Defense Regulations which the British had revoked in 1948 and which the Jordanians never used. These laws are rarely used against Israeli Jews, but the authorities use them systematically to deport, detain or arrest Palestinians, to demolish or seal houses and to impose censorship.

Currently there are 1,191 military orders for the West Bank and 900 for Gaza. Israelis and foreigners in the Occupied Territories are not subject to the same laws as the Palestinians. They come under the Israeli legal system and are tried in Israeli courts. Local courts try cases among Palestinians, but have no means of enforcing their rulings and therefore are largely ineffective. Israelis may not be brought to trial or sued before local courts. Palestinians accused by Israeli authorities of security offenses are tried by Israeli military courts.

No one has the right to appeal rulings by military courts on security charges. Administrative measures such as deportations and administrative detentions can be appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice, but the court only reviews the military commander’s authority to issue such an order, not the merits of the case. Only a handful of administrative orders have been overturned.

People arrested on security charges can be detained for up to 18 days without being brought to trial. The military court can extend this detention for up to six months without charges being brought, and these orders are renewable, thereby extending detention without trial for indefinite periods.

Israel classifies the Occupied Territories as closed military areas, thus restricting freedom of movement. The use of firearms by Israeli forces to quell demonstrations, once forbidden, has now been officially sanctioned. Since 1967, there have been more than half a million detentions and arrests in the Occupied Territories. Over the last few years, an average of 4,500 political prisoners and detainees have been held at any one time. The International Committee of the Red Cross must be notified of a person’s arrest or detention within 12 days, but often this is not carried out by Israeli authorities. The Red Cross is supposed to be allowed to visit detainees within 14 days of their arrest but, in order to be allowed to carry out its work, the Red Cross agreed not to advise detainees of their right to a lawyer, or to contact lawyers about detainees, or to publish any information about its work. In almost all cases, detainees cannot see lawyers until after they have signed confessions which are obtained during interrogation. Human rights groups have long charged that Israeli authorities use torture and intimidation during interrogations to extract confessions, which are then used as the primary basis for convictions. An official Israeli investigation of the Shinbet substantiated reports of torture by Israeli security forces and their subsequent perjury during trials.

Since 1967, Israel has deported over 2,000 Palestinians. This figure does not include unrecorded cases, or cases in which people were coerced into “agreeing” to leave. From 1978 to 1985 deportations were rare, but they were stepped up again in 1985 under the “iron fist” policy. No orders for deportation have ever been cancelled as a result of legal appeal by a Palestinian.

Since 1967, Israeli security forces have demolished over 1,560 houses. No house demolition order has ever been overturned by the Israeli High Court. Houses are demolished when the Israeli authorities suspect someone of committing a security offense, which includes children throwing stones at Israelis or their vehicles. House demolition, a form of collective punishment, is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.

All written materials are subject to censorship by Israeli authorities. In 1985 the list of banned books had over 1,600 titles. There are currently some 700 books on the list. All press publications are subject to censorship by both civilian and military authorities. Newspapers and magazines are subject to closure; journalists and editors have been arrested, harassed and deported.

Palestinians who were absent from the West Bank or Gaza in 1967 or left during the war have, for the most part, been denied the right to return. Only a small portion of family reunification applications have been approved. By 1979, over 150,000 applications remained unprocessed. All applications by males between the ages of 16 and 60 are automatically rejected.

Israel has now seized 52 percent of West Bank and 34 percent of Gaza land. Through settlements, roads and water and energy grids, they have tied the Occupied Territories into the infrastructure of Israel. In the West Bank, 135 settlements have been established, including 12 “neighborhoods” in Jerusalem, where over 175,000 Jewish settlers live. In Gaza, there are currently 14 settlements and over 2,000 Israeli settlers. Israeli settlers possess an estimated 10,000 firearms of all types.

How to cite this article:

Lisa Hajjar "Primer: Israel’s Military Regime," Middle East Report 150 (January/February 1988).

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