Walls of distrust keep Arabs and Jews apart
Jerusalem — Though the West Bank has not been annexed by Israel, the laws that govern the West Bank are constantly being reshaped and added to by Israeli authorities. The trend, say Israeli legal experts, is toward dual legislative, juridical, and administrative systems - one for Jewish settlers and the other for the Arab population.
Theoretically, the West Bank is still governed by the laws of Jordan, which ruled it before Israel captured the area during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Israeli high court, acting in light of international conventions, ruled that the legislative powers of the Israeli military government were limited to changes necessary to establish law and order, to military needs, or to the well-being of the civilian population.
But more than 1,000 military government orders have been promulgated for the West Bank, including some that amend Jordanian laws or effectively introduce copies of existing Israeli laws. Together they form a substantive body of ''legislation'' not only on security matters but also on most areas of West Bank civilian life.
The legislation ranges from how many eggplants a farmer can grow, to how much money an individual can bring in from Jordan, to myriad rules governing confiscation of West Bank land for Israeli settlement.
Palestinians have little say since there are few checks and balances to legislation by military order. Arabs can appeal to a military objections committee, and a small number of Palestinian appeals reach the Israeli high court.
This system gives Israel the power to define and redefine what constitutes West Bank law, by turning to Jordanian statutes if useful, or if not, amending them or substituting a military order.
A Palestinian lawyer, Jonathan Kuttab, recalls complaining to Israeli officials on the West Bank that a new tax form for West Bank citizens required information not justified by any Jordanian law or Israeli military order.
''Maybe that is so,'' he says the official replied. When lawyer Kuttab responded that he would then appeal the legitimacy of this form to the Israeli high court, the Palestinian says he was told ''Why bother? If you were to win, we'd just issue a new military order tomorrow justifying the form.''
By issuing military orders valid only for Israeli settlers or Jewish settlement, Israeli military authorities can effectively extend Israeli law to Jewish West Bankers and lay the basis for a dual Israeli-Palestinian legal system.
For exammple, military orders organized West Bank Jewish settlements in regional and local councils that have powers and privileges over land use planning, water, security, and other matters. The councils serve as a funnel for Israeli government and private development funds. They also organize settlements together as a political lobby to press their demands for more funds and settlements on the Israeli officials. In addition, they have de facto control over large tracts of West Bank land.
Palestinian West Bank municipalities are limited to local functions. Moreover , they have been cut off from outside Arab government or private development funds by Israeli military orders which sharply limit the amount of money that can be brought in from Jordan. Israel currently provides minimal development funds for Arab towns.
According to Israeli law, Israeli citizen settlers can turn to Israeli courts or opt out of local Arab courts in favor of trials before an Israeli military tribunal. Jewish settlers also vote and pay taxes in Israel.
Palestinian West Bankers have not been permitted to hold municipal elections since 1976, although under Jordanian law they should have been scheduled for 1980. Most elected municipal officials have been deposed by the Israeli authorities.