Supreme Court Justice Noam Solberg took part in a controversial ceremony last week marking 50 years of West Bank settlement despite a decision by the court’s president that it would be “inappropriate” to send official representation.
Solberg, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut in the Etzion Bloc where the ceremony took place, attended the event as a “private” citizen,” according to Army Radio, which first reported the story Monday morning.
He reportedly wore casual clothing, avoided the press and sat in the public gallery with his family instead of with other state representatives in reserved seating at the front.
According to the Army Radio report, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor was aware that Solberg would be attending.
“The decision was made with the knowledge of the president of the court who said she would not get involved in a personal decision,” Army Radio quoted a spokesperson for the Supreme Court as saying.
The Wednesday ceremony, funded by the Culture and Education ministries to the tune of NIS 10 million ($2.8 million), turned into a political lightning rod after Naor announced that she would be canceling Justice Neal Hendel’s participation in the ceremony.
“The judicial system refrains from participating in any controversial political event, in particular when the entire stage is devoted to one side,” she said at the time.
Her decision, which came in response to a request by left-wing Meretz MK Issawi Frej, drew instant and vociferous criticism from right-wing lawmakers, with ministers throwing accusations of political bias, bigotry and even anti-Zionism at the court.
Hours before the ceremony began, the court rejected a petition by a pro-settlement group demanding it send a representative. “The president’s instruction was given within the framework of her inherent authority as the head of the court system,” the ruling said.
Speaking at the event, which was also attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the Jewish communities in the territory would never be uprooted.
The settlements, set up on land Israel captured following the 1967 Six Day War, remain controversial. The Palestinians say they are a major stumbling block to peace and claim the land for a future state. Much of the international community holds them to be illegal under international law.
Israel says that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are legal under both Israeli and international law, as well as justified on historical and ethical grounds. “These are not new communities, and not ‘colonization,’” and therefore, the “section of the Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of a population to occupied lands does not apply” in the case of the West Bank, reads the current Foreign Ministry directive to Israeli diplomats serving around the world.
Before the ceremony, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wrote a letter to Naor in which she criticized the court chief for her decision.
“In effect, your announcement undoes the state aspect of an official ceremony and creates the false impression of an event that has a political nature. Although you wanted to avoid political controversy, behold, the goal has been missed,” she wrote.