My last posting, which featured happy and uplifting news, was a joy to write and was received with enthusiasm by many of you. (I could not respond to every message but have read them all!)
But it was, I realize, foolish of me to imagine that I was on a roll and could continue with a focus just on good happenings. Life most often is not like that.
What came as a real blow yesterday was news about Amiram Ben Uliel.
I have written about him several times before and you will hear more going forward. He is serving three life sentences because he was convicted of arson in the village of Duma that killed three Arab family members in 2015. He was convicted only on the strength of a confession that had been secured through torture.
Here in Israel torture is only allowed when a suspect is a smoking gun; this is reasonable, because securing information about an imminent terror attack can save lives. But Amiram was not a smoking gun, was not associated with any group planning or suspected of planning terror attacks.
At the time of his trial, I followed the situation closely and came away convinced, as are many others, that Amiram is innocent. There were a number of inconsistencies in the case, a number of factors that pointed to Arabs attacking Arabs within the village.
 The first and most obvious reason was the fact that there was an on-going clan feud in the village (not an unusual occurrence) and there were other instances of houses set on fire in that very same village.
 Then, the house he was accused of having firebombed was in the center of the village, which made no sense. If a Jew – a very visible Jew, yet – wanted to firebomb an Arab house, he almost certainly would do so on the perimeter of the village so that he would have minimum exposure and would be able to escape quickly. Arson at the center of the village suggested it was done by an Arab who lived there.
 There was Hebrew writing on the wall of the house, but a handwriting expert determined that it was not Amiram’s handwriting and that, in fact, it was probably written by a native writer of Arabic.
There was a good deal more. What is written above is the short of it.
But Amiram was convicted.
Recently there was an appeal, with the Court sustaining the verdict. What was shocking in that instance was that the Court said there had been 17 hours between the last incident of torture and his confession, which meant he had time to recover from the torture. This is patently ridiculous (some of this was later walked back). It takes years to recover from torture, not to mention that his torturers had suggested to him that torture would resume if he didn’t confess. (He later retracted the confession.)
Amiram’s lawyer then sought another appeal, with a larger number of justices sitting. Yesterday, Esther Hayut, the president of the Court, denied this request. This was in spite of the fact that she wrote in her ruling that “the means used against the petitioner [Ben Uliel] during his interrogation were certainly extremely irregular…” Extremely irregular?? Does she think this is a legal synonym for torture? She based her ruling on the fact that no new legislation had been introduced.
There was shock, and sadness, and anger at this turn of events on the part of all of us concerned about Amiram. I do not have final answers at this point. This is an ongoing situation.
But what I can refer to now is the bitter irony of this situation. Crazy lefties are still demonstrating every Saturday night because they say judicial reforms will destroy democracy. But we can see a perversion of justice within the current court that cries out for changes. It is my understanding that no democracy allows convictions based on torture. Yet shamefully, this was the case with Amiram.
The court drew upon the application of “reasonableness” recently in declaring Deri unfit to be a minister. But that “reasonability factor” is applied selectively, for if anything was not reasonable it was accepting a confession secured via torture.
The case of Amiram Ben Uliel and the conduct of the court — and in particular Hayut — is striking evidence of the need for judicial reform.
On Tuesday, MK Simcha Rothman (RZP), Chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, published his bill, titled, Basic Law: The Judiciary (Amendment No. 3, Strengthening the Separation of Branches of Government). It is scheduled to have its first reading in the plenum next Monday.
In summary, it amends the manner in which judges are selected, giving the Knesset and the Justice Minister more authority and the Court less. As matters have stood until now, the Supreme Court president controlled five out of the nine votes on the committee for selecting new judges making the court something of a self-selected closed fraternity. And, I will note, it has been a left-leaning closed fraternity. This will no longer be the case with this legislation (which is one of the reasons why the left is frantic and out demonstrating).
One of the clearest explanations that I’ve seen of why judicial reform is necessary is by Moshe Koppel, Chair of the Kohelet Policy Forum. Among the points he makes in explaining why Kohelet is in favor of “serious and urgent judicial reform” (emphasis added):
The best mechanism for achieving a goal of freedom for all individuals, he says, is representative democracy, with appropriate checks and balances among the three branches of government – judiciary, executive and legislative. Here he focuses on the checks and balances between the judiciary, on the one hand, and the executive and legislature, on the other.
“In many democracies…the judiciary’s checks on the legislature include the authority to rule on whether a particular statute is inconsistent with principles enumerated in the country’s constitution. Similarly, in most democracies, the judiciary can rule that some administrative action is invalid on certain specified grounds, including violation of rights, discrimination…Such checks and balances are in place in recognition of the fact that the legislature and executive are comprised of fallible human beings who might overstep the bounds of legitimate power.
“But judges are also fallible human beings no less free from personal or ideological biases and prejudices than legislators. Yet unlike the legislators, they do not need to face elections. What checks exist on the judiciary and what recourse do the citizens have if the Court gets it wrong?
“Typically, these are comprised of three elements:
“First, justices are chosen by the elected branches. This ensures that across time the ideological composition of the Court roughly reflects that of the voters.
“In addition, there are limits on who can petition the court (that is, who has standing) and the kinds of cases the court can hear (what is justiciable). Thus, for example, typically only a person directly affected by some policy can petition the court regarding that policy. Similarly, political questions that are clearly within the jurisdiction of the other branches, such as the selection of government officials, or security and foreign relations, cannot be decided by courts at all, because as the US Supreme Court has said, there are simply no ‘criteria for a judicial determination.’ This ensures that the court is limited to resolving disputes, rather than making policy.
“And finally, the court’s tools in considering the legality of an administrative action or the constitutionality of a statute are limited to those defined in law. These tools limit the impact of ideological biases of the Justices…
“In Israel, none of these checks on the judiciary remain in force.
“Sitting Justices and representatives of the Bar Association – who have strong personal incentives to align with the Justices – constitute a majority of the committee that selects new judges. In the case of appointments to the Supreme Court, sitting Justices have an effective veto. This has resulted in a largely ideologically homogeneous court.
”As a result of rulings by Justice Aharon Barak in the 1980s, there are no limits on standing or justiciability in the Supreme Court. Anybody can petition the court about anything. This allows the court to insinuate itself in any political issue, even when it can’t point to anybody who has been concretely harmed by the government’s policies on the matter…
“In addition, the court has invalidated administrative decisions that met all the criteria of legality, but that the court regards as unreasonable. For example, the court invented a doctrine that lame-duck governments can’t make administrative decisions that bind future governments unless the court says it can. Thus, during any lame-duck government (quite frequent in Israel) the court essentially runs the country.
“…when then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to close the PLO headquarters in Jerusalem in 1999, Barak ruled this “unreasonable” because elections were only months away. But when then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed away parts of Israel’s sovereign territorial waters to Lebanon five days before the 2022 elections, the court allowed it…
“In addition to absolving itself from all the standard checks on judiciaries, the court invented out of whole cloth two novel techniques for further extending its own power.
“First, Barak decided that the Attorney General is not merely the government’s legal advisor, he is its boss, in the sense that any directive issued by the Attorney General is legally binding on the government.
”The combination of the abuse of unreasonableness as grounds for judicial intervention with the exaggerated empowerment of the Attorney General results in a stranglehold by unelected officials over the policies of elected ones.
“A second technique invented by Barak is interpreting laws according to what he calls their ‘objective purpose.’ This is an elegant way of saying that the court should ignore what the law says and read into it what the court believes it should have said.”
It is eminently clear, as Koppel has demonstrated, that a reform of the judicial system is urgently needed. Such a reform, which would limit the power of the Court, would enhance democracy because it would give elected officials the authority that is properly theirs. These officials represent the people.
It is also eminently clear why the left is hysterical and making outlandish charges about the effects of judicial reform: they are about to lose control of the country. They are doing our nation enormous injury by inciting unrest and violence, and by giving the international community and its leaders a badly skewed impression of what is going on here.
Please! It is urgent that you share this information broadly so that people might better understand. You are doing a service for Israel by clarifying the situation.
Undoubtedly, my readers all know of the horrific earthquakes that have shaken Turkey and Syria – killing thousands (12,000 in Turkey, as I write) and injuring many more.
What I wish to focus on here is the speediness and the generosity with which Israel has responded. This is what we do, and it is a point of enormous pride. We have sent search and rescue teams that have extensive expertise into Turkey. There are members of the teams who are searching in the rubble of collapsed buildings, and others prepared to provide support to the injured.
The first ones in were roughly 150 people from the Israel Defense Force’s Home Front Command prepared to do the search and rescue operations.
They brought with them the equipment needed for the delicate and dangerous work of excavating people from collapsed buildings.
Dozens of Israeli doctors, medics, and psychotrauma specialists followed the first group. They were joined by some 25 volunteers from United Hatzalah (pictured), mostly doctors, paramedics and trauma experts.
Ten tons of equipment and humanitarian aid were carried in with them. A small group from IsraAID came with water purification kits.
Yesterday, Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s Health Ministry sent a special medical team to set up a field hospital in Turkey. The 230-member delegation included orthopedic doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensive care specialists, emergency medicine doctors, pediatricians and trauma specialists.
The hospital includes operating rooms, trauma units, X-ray machines and laboratories.
When describing the aid being provided to Turkey, Netanyahu said, “Since a request was also received to do this for many victims of the earthquake in Syria, I instructed to do this as well.” He said the request for humanitarian relief for Syria had been relayed “by a diplomatic official.” It was relayed by Russia, according to Israeli sources.
Aid to Syria consists of tents, medication, and blankets; no IDF personnel will enter the county. I do not have solid information on whether the equipment has been sent already but assume so. Israel is also prepared to receive individuals injured in the earthquake for medical care. Officials want to help and are looking for ways to do so.
Syria, however, has denied making a request for assistance. Even in a crisis, hostility pervades the situation. One Syrian official claimed: “It is disgraceful that Netanyahu exploits the catastrophe of the earthquake that struck Syria to mislead the public opinion and cover up the expansionist and savage policies of the occupation.”
In my next posting I hope to take a closer look at some issues regarding the readiness of Netanyahu to move forward both with legal Jewish building and demolition of illegal Arab housing in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. These matters were included in the coalition agreements with Religious Zionists (Smotrich) and Otzma Yehudit (Ben Gvir) – and we have already seen action with regard to demolitions by Public Security Minister Ben Gvir. Smotrich and Ben Gvir are adamant that what they are committed to will be seen through.
Varying reports on Netanyahu’s position have surfaced in the last few days. Some said he had caved to demands made by Blinken during his visit. Others said Netanyahu had refused to cave. And still others said there would be action, but of a diminished scope.
A reliable source has told me that many of the reports are still “speculative” and that it is too soon to know what Netanyahu’s position will be. He has a history of caving to US pressure but now is the time for him to demonstrate a spine of steel, reinforced by his right-wing coalition.
I have already reported on the fact that Netanyahu requested a delay of another four months in carrying out the Court-ordered demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, an order promoted by Regavim petitions amid issues of security risks. This request by Netanyahu for yet another delay was fueled by concern about an international furor and very likely demands by Blinken.
The Court responded with an agreement that there could be another delay, but only for two months. The Court registered dissatisfaction as this was the ninth delay, each one leading to another. Regavim has demanded that a final order be set by the Court for the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar on May 1, with the state required to respond (with plans for the evacuation) by April 2. A hearing will be held on this.
Regavim’s response: “The Supreme Court is once again covering for the government’s failure to formulate and enforce comprehensive policy or to articulate a cogent vision for Judea and Samaria.”
“…Khan al-Ahmar is more than a collection of makeshift shacks and tents. It is the flagship of a systematic, well-funded program of annexation by the Palestinian Authority. As such, it has also become a flashpoint of international subversion of Israel’s national interests and sovereignty.
“The time has come for the State of Israel to grow up, to stand up, and to take itself seriously. Otherwise, no one else can be expected to do so.” (Emphasis added)
Much more on the issues to follow, but I close with good news:
On Sunday, the Ministerial Legislative Committee will vote on a bill that would rescind the 2005 Disengagement Law as it applies to the northern Shomron. This would pave the way for the reconstruction of the four communities razed there. “I think we have to do the right thing, and I am absolutely sure we are doing the right thing,” said Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Yuli Edelstein.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin says the bill will have its first reading in the Knesset on Wednesday. He has promised that it will have a priority and Prime Minister Netanyahu has confirmed this.
One of those communities is Homesh, where a yeshiva operates with great difficulty. This is where yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman was murdered by terrorists just over a year ago. What a joy – and an act of justice – it would be to see that community revived and thriving. This Tu B’Shvat 1,500 people went to Homesh to celebrate a seder in the yeshiva.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.