Israel's controversial 'emergency regulations' bill, explained

  • 26 Jan 2023

Israel passes an 'emergency regulations' bill, allowing application of Israeli law for illegal settlers living in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard says 'emergency regulations' bill allows authorities in Israel to "exercise powers in the settlements without annexing them de jure." ( Reuters Archive )

The 'emergency regulations' bill has passed into law by the Israeli Parliament to extend regulations for illegal Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank for another five years. 

The bill was renewed by the Israeli Knesset overnight Tuesday after its second and third readings in the plenum. 

It was first enacted in 1967 and has been renewed every five years since then.

The bill ensures the application of Israeli civil law on settlers who are living in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, opposed to Palestinians in the territory who are ruled by Israeli military law.

Thirty-nine members of the Knesset voted in favour of the bill against 12, the Knesset said in a statement.

"The bill proposes to extend by five years the validity of the emergency regulations, which deal with the legal powers of the state authorities in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank]," the statement said.

The bill aims to give illegal settlers living in the occupied West Bank the same status of Israelis living in Israel, Palestinian lawyer Muhammad Dahleh earlier told Anadolu Agency.

The bill was a reason for the fall of the former Israeli government of Yair Lapid in 2022 when even right-wing parties threatened to vote against it, eventually leading Lapid to dissolve the parliament. 

READ MORE: 'They want to destroy democracy': Mass rally held against Netanyahu govt

What do the regulations include?

The emergency regulations also known as 'The Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law' was introduced by Israel after the occupation of Palestinian territories following the war in 1967.

It then became a crucial stake for Israel to maintain its segregated system amidst the flow of settlers into Palestinian lands that are not under Israel's rule legally. 

Although legally the occupied West Bank is not part of Israeli sovereign territory, the regulations ensure that settlers living there are treated as if they live in Israel, meanwhile the whole of the Palestinian population in the West Bank are ruled under Israel's military rule which restricts their full freedom, access to land and resources.

Ben Gurion told the Knesset that imposing military law over Palestinians who are living in the same territories with the settlers aims "to protect the right of Jewish settlement in all parts of the state."

In recent years, all government-sponsored bills are specified that they apply to settlers in the West Bank or otherwise justify why not. 

Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard describes this as "pipelining," allowing Israeli authorities to "exercise powers in the settlements without annexing them de jure." 

According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli authorities try Palestinians charged with crimes in military courts, where they face a conviction rate of nearly 100 percent. By contrast, authorities pass regulations that extend Israeli criminal law on a personal basis to settlers, and grant Israeli courts jurisdiction over them, while authorities have followed a longstanding policy not to prosecute Jewish settlers in military courts.

The dual body of law creates a reality where two people live in the same territory, but only one's rights are fully protected. 

READ MORE: Palestine applauds ICJ's reception of request to assess Israeli occupation

What does this mean for the Palestinian people?

More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes and more than 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed in events around the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

Between 1949 and 1966, Israeli authorities placed most Palestinians who remained within the borders of the new state under military rule, confining them to dozens of enclaves, requiring them to obtain permits to leave their enclaves, and severely restricting their rights.

From 1967 until now, Israel has had military rule over Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including East Jerusalem. 

While facilitating their safe transfers, Israel grants settlers also a superior legal status compared to Palestinians living in the same areas in terms of civil rights, access to lands, freedom to move and to build, and confer residency rights to close relatives, according to Human Rights Watch.

Israel has been holding control over borders, airspace, movement of the population and legal status of people which directly affects the everyday lives of Palestinians. 

According to B'Tselem, there are more than 40 kilometres of occupied West Bank roads that Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinians from travelling on and another 19 kilometres of West Bank roads on which Palestinian travel is restricted. 

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories such as the West Bank, Israel subjects Palestinians to military law.

Since 1967, Israeli authorities have incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians for "security offences" based on secret evidence without charge or trial for renewable periods that can extend for multiple years.

The emergency regulation affects the status of Palestinian inmates being held in Israeli prisons. Israel uses this set of regulations to hold them outside the occupied lands.

It allows Israel to hold Palestinians charged by military courts. If it is not extended, Israeli jail authorities would no longer have the power to keep some thousands of Palestinian prisoners who will need to be sent back to the West Bank. 

It also regulates everyday relations between settlers and Israel. The state levy taxes and police are able to investigate criminal offences and settlers vote in Israeli elections, enlist for compulsory military service, courtesy to this law. 

The law, which was last extended in 2017, remains an "emergency measure" that must be renewed every five years.

It continues to benefit nearly half a million Israeli settlers who live in Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Under international law, all Israeli settlements in occupied territories are considered illegal.

READ MORE: Japan concerned over unilateral Israeli measures in Palestinian territories