Israeli Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia Speaks at Brandeis

Justice Ayala Procaccia addressed issues relating to the Israeli security fence and the challenges in balancing public safety with personal freedom.

November 8, 2005

The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life was honored to welcome Justice Ayala Procaccia of the Israeli Supreme Court to the Brandeis campus for a luncheon and afternoon presentation during her visit to the United States.

Israel's highest court hears over 12,000 cases each year, playing a major role in developing norms of behavior in both private and public sectors. Because Israel does not have a comprehensive statutory constitution, the rulings handed down by the Supreme Court have historically served to confer basic human rights for all Israeli citizens.

Though its decisions are at times hotly contested, Procaccia said it is a testament to the vitality of the Supreme Court that Israeli citizens from both the far right and left do not hesitate to petition the Court when they feel their freedoms have been impinged.

The threat of terrorism is constant in Israel, but Procaccia said that does not give the government license to arrest and hold people at will. The courts supervise the legality of each suspected terrorist who is detained, and Procaccia said holding detainees for more than 12 days without a hearing was a clear violation of the law. Furthermore, she said there was "no legal basis" for any use of physical means of interrogation.

With regard to the security fence being constructed, Procaccia said the Court hears each challenge on an individual basis; some petitioners contest the legality of the fence, while others take issue with the planned route.

Though the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion against the security fence, Israel has not stopped its construction. Procaccia noted that the opinion was not binding, though she said the Israeli Supreme Court regards it as an important interpretive document.

Ultimately, however, the Court found major discrepancies that stem from a difference in informative data. The Supreme Court had greater access to facts and expert testimony on the matter, because Israel did not take part in the International Court's proceedings.

"That was a government decision," said Procaccia. "It never came to the Court."

Procaccia said the "supremacy of human rights" is a cornerstone of the Court's rulings, but she acknowledged that those rights can not always be protected due to the sometimes conflicting needs of national security and public safety. "Ignoring those needs could be suicidal," said Procaccia. Each time, the Court must strike the proper balance between the potential damage to security and the potential harm to the fabric of Israeli citizens' lives.