July 2023 | Knesset approves legislation curtailing Supreme Court's power
On 24 July, the legislature (Knesset) passed a controversial bill that limits the Supreme Court's power to scrutinize executive decisions by abolishing the 'reasonableness standard'. The reasonableness standard is used by the courts “to take into account all relevant considerations and grant them proper weight.” Israel’s Supreme Court has relied on this standard to review decisions made by the government. Notably, it was applied earlier this year to annul the appointment of Aryeh Deri as Health and Interior Minister due to his criminal convictions, compelling Prime Minister Netanyahu to remove him from office.
The legislation was adopted unanimously 64-0 by coalition MPs after opposition parties boycotted the vote (there are a total of 120 seats in the legislature). The approved law has been met with significant backlash, triggering widespread anti-government protests, heightened violence, and threats from thousands of military reservists to refuse their duty. Critics argue that the law could potentially enable the government to enforce policies without judicial review or oversight, which could possibly lead to abuses of power or unconstitutional actions. Following the bill's enactment, the Supreme Court declared on 26 July that it would review an appeal against the legislation in September.
June 2023 | Israel advances de facto annexation
The Israeli government advanced annexation policies and intensified military operations throughout June, conducting over 500 raids that resulted in the death of 19 Palestinians. On 18 June, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right supporter and pro-settlement advocate, was granted authority by the government over planning in the occupied West Bank, moving forward with plans for over 4,500 new settlement units. Traditionally under the control of the Ministry of Defence, the new procedure is expected to expedite expansion of settlements by eliminating the need for multiple approvals for construction. The simplified approval process, now only requiring one initial consent, effectively reduces governmental oversight, which critics argue may increase tension by normalizing construction in disputed areas.
Several unauthorized outposts were also established by Israeli settlers this month. On 23 June, National Security Minister Ben-Gvir called for the establishment of more such outposts. Despite being illegal even under Israeli law, the new outposts have been set up by settlers with the knowledge and implicit support of government officials, who have asked security forces to ignore these activities. On 26 June, the government approved around 5,700 new housing units in West Bank settlements. This decision brings the total number of such residences authorized this year to more than 13,000, marking a new record.
May 2023 | Tensions and hostilities reached highest level since August 2022
May witnessed a surge in violence between Israeli and Palestinian groups, drawing international attention and concerns. The conflict escalated following the death of a prominent Palestinian activist in Israeli custody on 2 May, leading to retaliatory attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PJI) and subsequent airstrikes by Israel. A ceasefire was eventually achieved after five days of intense clashes resulting in casualties on both sides. This was the largest escalation of the conflict since a three-day period in August 2022. Simultaneously, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank experienced a spike in violent incidents by Israeli authorities, including raids and checkpoints. The use of excessive force, including use of live ammunition, resulted in thousands of Palestinian injuries and several civilian casualties. The United Nations called for an end to the violence, expressing alarm over the high casualty rate, which includes over 156 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces so far in 2023, including 26 children.
April 2023 | Inter-religious violence mars holy days
Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays coincided in April, and it was a particularly deadly month in Israel and Palestinian territories. Tensions escalated after the Israeli military stormed al Aqsa Mosque on 5 April, triggering a spike in violence from both sides that continued throughout the month. Israeli authorities carried out multiple raids and attacks on worshipers at the mosque, resulting in hundreds of injured individuals and arrests. Palestinians’ religious freedoms were further limited as the Israeli government extended the closure of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strips, restricting access to the mosque. Christian activities and places of public gathering were also affected by government restrictions on visits to Jerusalem's Church of Holy Sepulchre and heavy-handed tactics used by Israeli police blocking entrance to the site. According to community leaders, hostility and violence towards the Christian community has increased since the start of 2023. A Relief Web report revealed that the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli authorities during the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period of 2022 increased by approximately 400 per cent.