Judiciary slams Levin for claiming High Court constrained IDF at Gaza border

Statement from Judicial Authority spokesperson describes as ‘baseless’ and ‘unfounded’ justice minister’s assertion that courts restricted army’s open-fire rules at boundary

Justice Minister Yariv Levin seen during at the weekly cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin seen during at the weekly cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

The Judicial Authority described Sunday as “baseless” and “unfounded” claims made by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and others that High Court of Justice decisions had led to a tightening of the IDF’s open-fire regulations at the Gaza border, contributing to the failure to prevent Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

The statement was issued by the spokesperson’s division of the Judicial Authority, which is responsible for communications for the top court, the lower courts and the Israel Courts Administration, but was not signed by any official other than the spokesperson.

Levin has had a highly testy relationship with the judiciary as he earlier this year led the government’s planned far-reaching judicial overhaul, which divided the country until it was put on indefinite hold following last month’s devastating invasion and the ensuing war in the Gaza Strip. Critics have said the plan would sap the courts of key powers, hand too much power to the government, and erode Israel’s democratic nature.

The spokesperson’s statement alluded to comments made by Levin in an interview with Channel 14 on November 9 when asked about continuing with his judicial overhaul agenda. He said: “There is a need to change the approach and to change the perspective of the justice system, including in connection with the IDF. So that when someone approaches the border fence, it’s unthinkable that soldiers should be scared to shoot at them [for fear of violating regulations]. When there is a building that could provide cover for terrorists to carry out an attack, it can’t be that it is impossible to take it down.”

Similar claims were also made recently by Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, on his Telegram channel.

The judiciary’s statement pointed out that in response to a petition calling for stricter IDF open-fire regulations in 2018 during mass Palestinian riots on the Israel-Gaza border, the High Court rejected the petition, saying it had very little authority to intervene.

Yair Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The judiciary’s statement also rejected unsubstantiated allegations that the High Court has held secret meetings on the issue of open-fire regulations outside of the court’s halls.

“The judges of the High Court of Justice deliberate on petitions filed to the court in the court alone, and do not hold meetings with this or that party on matters relating to petitions in any other framework, neither before nor after a ruling is issued,” read the statement.

The remarks came against the backdrop of the ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which erupted on October 7 when thousands of gunmen breached the border fence and massacred over 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, and kidnapped over 240 to Gaza.

On Saturday, Yair Netanyahu cast blame on the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet and the High Court for failures leading to the October 7 massacres.

Yair Netanyahu, who moved to Miami earlier this year, shared a clip on “how the High Court changed the security arrangements and the instructions for opening fire on the border of the Gaza Strip.”

The clip featured a video by an attorney from the Kohelet Policy Forum, the conservative think tank whose ideas formed the ideological basis of the judicial overhaul program.

He also shared an unsourced report alleging the IDF and Shin Bet security service pushed the political echelon to enable economic activity in the Gaza Strip in order to preserve quiet there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to publicly take responsibility for the failures that led to the Hamas massacre, saying instead that the matter will be investigated after the war, in which Israel is campaigning to destroy the terror group and remove it from power in Gaza.

Opinion polls have consistently shown since the war began that Netanyahu and the parties that made up his pre-war hard-right coalition would suffer a resounding defeat if elections were held now.

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