Yesh Din petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to revoke private security contractors’ powers from policing private Palestinian land and to publish any changes in the contractors’ guarding zones.
The NGO, whose full name is Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights, defines guarding zones as “areas in and around settlements” where specific settlers are contracted to provide security supplemental to that provided by the IDF.
In 1971, the IDF issued an order applying its “regional defense” doctrine to settlements in the West Bank, empowering private contractors to perform searches and seizures, and use “any reasonable measure” to arrest Palestinians to maintain security, the petition explains.
“The order was issued as part of an overall military strategy, which considered the settlements an auxiliary to the military,” wrote Yesh Din.
However, it argued that the IDF order “”no longer serves the ‘regional defense’ doctrine, which was meant to protect Israel from enemy invasion, and has remained in place solely to protect the settlements” and illicit outposts.
It was unclear what alternative Yesh Din would propose to preserving security for the settlements from a wave of terrorist attacks known as the “knife intifada” which has hit Jewish settlements in the West Bank particularly intensely since fall 2015.
The petition, filed by lawyers Shlomy Zachary, Michal Ziv and Muhammad Shakir, states: “It is inconceivable that Palestinians must gamble with their rights and liberty every time they encounter a contractor, simply because the IDF has decided to operate without transparency and openness, contrary to previous undertakings made by the legal adviser of the area.”
According to Yesh Din, until 2009, contractors were allowed to “use their powers only within the municipal boundaries of a settlement or Israeli industrial zone in the West Bank.”
However, since then, ‘guarding zones’ were created which enable contractors to “use their powers in privately owned Palestinian lands, and any changes made to them are not publicized.”
Yesh Din said that contractors’ powers have been too broad and that they have used these powers to unfairly abuse Palestinians for a long time, but that the institution of guarding zones on private Palestinian land and the changing of the zones without publication have worsened the situation.
The NGO said it has “documented a slew of incidents in which contractors have abused their powers and harmed Palestinian farmers, including cases in which routine incidents escalated into violence and gunfire.”
In November 2014, The Jerusalem Post reported on Yesh Din’s the “The Lawless Zone” document, which along with conversations or reviews of past reports, statements and court documents with B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, levied heavy criticism on contractors’ alleged abuse of power in other areas, failed oversight of settler contractors and a number of violent incidents.
Some of the incidents involved Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood and Old City where, in the past, ACRI has said there were more than 350 private security guards.
In one group of incidents, contractors were convicted of crimes or dismissed from their positions, though none were convicted of murder or got extensive jail time.
But in many more incidents, cases were closed without indictments; sometimes, according to the NGOs involved in the cases, under questionable circumstances and with significant unexplained delay.