This study details the manner in which human rights organizations receiving funding from European governments promote political objectives through systematic petitioning to Israeli courts. Our study focused on three case studies: forced feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes; illegal immigrants and asylum seekers; and the demolition of terrorists’ homes, and examined the main petitions submitted on these issues by the organizations or on their behalf. The study aimed to evaluate the different influences of the many petitions in each of these fields. The main findings are presented below:
With regard to the forced feeding of prisoners, the human rights organizations’ appeals focused international public attention on the policy of the Israeli government attempting to contend with security prisoners, and contributed to the continued excessive and extortive demands from the security prisoners. Nevertheless, in reality, the High Court of Justice approved the legality of the current arrangement of force feeding and it would appear that most of the damage in this area amounts to harm caused to the State of Israel’s image and in promotion of the Palestinian narrative depicting the prisoners as freedom fighters.
With regard to the Prevention of Infiltration Law and the government’s policy aimed at eradicating the phenomenon of illegal immigration to Israel, the petitions submitted by the human rights organizations have had an extremely inhibitive influence on legislative efforts and on attempts to promote policy measures to curb this phenomenon. Following these petitions, the High Court of Justice revoked the legislation during several rounds of legal proceedings, causing, according to government sources, marked damage to the state’s ability to fight the phenomenon of illegal immigration.
With regard to the issue of demolition of terrorists’ homes, it is apparent that despite the many petitions promoted or aided by the human rights organizations, there has been no fundamental change in government policy and the military commander still maintains a high level of discretion, subject to various reservations determined by the High Court of Justice. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that these petitions delayed demolitions, sometimes for many months, a reality that may have harmed the effectiveness of this deterrent in the war against terror.
Moreover, it is apparent from the findings that the activity of these organizations significantly influences the public and juridical discourse in Israel – both at local and international levels – surrounding the decision-making process and, all the more so, with regard to the State of Israel’s foreign relations.
Several recommendations were formulated in light of the study. First, effort should be made to increase the transparency of these organizations’ activity, from both ends of the political spectrum (e.g. exposing funding sources of organizations petitioning the court or joining a petition as a “friend of the court – amicus curiae). In addition, it seems advisable to consider the option of reducing the right of standing in law to direct victims only, while limiting the incentive for powerful “return players” such as human rights organizations with large financial resources.