The judges are threatening to suspend their work until the Palestinian Authority addresses the continuing state of lawlessness in Gaza.
The strike comes as Zuhair Sourani, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority’s Higher Judicial Council, announced his resignation on Saturday.
His announcement came just days after a hand grenade was thrown at his home by a group of masked gunmen. The attack caused physical damage but no injuries.
“Judges cannot work in an atmosphere in which there is absolute disregard for the law and no protection for the judicial authorities,” he said.
“These attacks, in addition to threats against judges, prosecutors and lawyers, severely undermine the judicial system. The judges are afraid to issue verdicts,” Sourani told Aljazeera.net.
“We ask the PA to take drastic measures in the name of all those against which crimes were perpetrated – the name of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. Without proper security, we cannot do our jobs.”
Series of assaults
The incident was the second of its kind against the Palestinian judiciary in less than 24 hours, and follows a spate of unaccounted for attacks against public figures, buildings and individuals in Gaza.
Tents have been put up for
On Monday, a grenade was lobbed near the house of the Palestinian Attorney General Hussein Abu ‘Aassi, and a Palestinian policeman was shot dead in front of his children by armed gunmen.
The Palestinian Lawyers Association and the Judiciary Council have called for a general strike until the security situation is addressed, erecting protest tents in front of Gaza courts on Sunday.
“What happened is not just an attack on Judge Sourani; it is an attack on the entire judicial system; an attack on society as a whole; an attack against the rule of law that is there to protect all segments of society, not just a select few,” said Imad Qidwa, a counsel with the prosecution who sat with dozens of other lawyers, judges, clerks, and officials in front of the main Gaza courthouse.
“Yesterday it was Judge Sourani, but tomorrow it could be anyone. We will stay here until protection is provided for all the courts. So far, we have yet to hear a simple condemnation of the attack by the PA,” he added.
Sitting in his now heavily guarded office in a strategy meeting with members of the judiciary, Sourani accused the PA of failing to address the rampant lawlessness and anarchy in Palestinian society.
“What happened in the past few days is enough to topple a government. Yet the Palestinian Authority will not take any serious steps against the gunmen who attacked our houses, even though their identity is well-known to them,” said Sourani.
“The PA is fully responsible for what is happening in the judicial system in particular and Palestinian society in general,” he continued.
The strike, which has put thousands of court cases on hold, comes just days before a scheduled Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has made cracking down on lawlessness a centrepiece of his administration – and previously of his campaign for office, but appears not to have made much headway.
The Higher Judiciary Council
Gaza has been wracked by lawlessness in recent months, including murders, shootings, and kidnappings, with little action on the part of the government.
According to Sourani, armed gunmen coerced PA security forces to free his attackers shortly after their arrest.
But the Minister of the Interior denied the charges, saying the ministry is doing its utmost to ensure law and order.
“The accusations are false, and the reasoning is unacceptable coming from the chief justice or anyone else for that matter,” said Tawfiq Abo Khosa, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior.
Palestinian security forces, which have been severely weakened during the nearly five years of fighting with Israel, have often clashed with armed fighters during attempts to enforce order, many of whom emerged from within Abbas’ ruling Fatah Party.
“We are dealing with all the attacks and those who perpetrated them according to the law, from the beginning of the case till the end. The police have opened an investigation into the matter,” said Abo Khosa.
“But there are no full-proof security guarantees – otherwise the British government could have prevented the London. We will try our best within our limited capacity, with a 91% success rate. To accuse us otherwise is to make unfair and false allegations.”
Opposition groups, meanwhile, have taken this as opportunity to highlight the impotence of the Abbas government, as the two sides jockey for power leading up to anticipated January parliamentary elections.
Abbas pledged to bring the
“In the absence and ineffectiveness of the PA’s security forces and the Abbas government, kidnappings have increased and lawlessness and chaos is on the rise,” said a column in the Hamas weekly, al-Risala.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), for its part, condemned the attack, calling on the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibility in restoring order.
“The last two incidents demonstrate that the attacks are aimed at threatening the judiciary in a general sense,” said Hamdi Shaqura, head of PCHR’s Democracy Development Unit.
“In the past we have called on the PA to take steps against the armed gunmen, and this means calling on the Attorney General to prosecute them.
“But now we face an interesting dilemma – the the person who is being attacked is the Attorney General.”
“Kidnappings and shootings are becoming a normal occurrence”
Shaqura blames inefficiency and a lack of accountability within the PA’s various security branches, which he says, for all practical purposes, have yet to be consolidated as promised by President Abbas earlier this year.
“The problem goes back to security forces themselves. Many of the attackers are from among their ranks. We heard about uniting security forces, but on the ground this has not happened; and the security situation is getting worse every day,” said Shaqura.
Last month, hundreds of preventive security forces took to shooting throughout Gaza City’s streets in protest against Abbas’ proposed security reforms, raiding both the Ministry of the Interior and the Legislative Council.
Shaqura said the lack of accountability is fostering a culture of impunity in Palestinian society, where people are taking the law into their own hands.
“Most crimes are treated as if they are mere traffic infractions, and even those have become more complicated.
“Kidnappings and shootings are becoming a normal occurrence in our society, and since the perpetrators are not punished, it gives the green light to anyone who has a problem to resort to such tactics to seek remand for their grievances.
“No one is above the law. It cannot be implemented by a double standard. The crimes are known to all, the perpetrators are known to all. And there are laws that deal with them. All we ask is that they be implemented.”