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An Israeli citizen with a foreign passport, living abroad asks to drive a rental car with a foreign drivers license in Israel – sounds complicated? It is indeed!
Sometimes, accidently, the opportunity occurs to correct injustice.
At the same time we learn something new about the logic that prevails in the legal system in our country - Israel.
First of all, I would like to reveal the ending of this story, that as part of the appeal, everything was resolved to a just resolution.
On a trip abroad, someone approached me with the following story, (rather complained to me):
An Israeli who left Israel at the age of 19, 20 years to a foreign country, married a citizen of that specific country having 2 children that were born there.
He had a valid driver’s license issued by the resident country ( hereinafter: "a foreign license").
At the age of 18 when he still lived in Israel, he passed and received his Israeli license, which was never renewed and is therefore not valid.
He rarely visits Israel and if he does, he orders rental cars presenting his foreign license. On his last visit approximately 4 months before our meeting, the client was stopped for inspection by the traffic police. When it became clear that he is an Israeli citizen, the foreign license was confiscated.
He was brought to the Peace Court on Transportation in Jerusalem for the process of quick judgment. At that hearing he was convicted of driving without a license and sentenced to suspension of his driver’s license for 3 months on probation.
We checked the legal situation and found out that this "fascinating" issue caused the Israeli courts on different occasions to bring up some interesting comments.
The relevant legislative provisions are regulations 567 and 567A, respectively, of The Transportation Regulations. The following is the content of these rules: (this is a non binding translation – the Hebrew original text prevails – J.W)
567. Foreign drivers license
Non-resident of Israel and non-resident of the region, as defined in Regulation 578 with a foreign driver's license valid, will be defined see it as having a valid driving license in Israel, in the corresponding grade level of his driver's license, if all of the following conditions are met:
(1) Terms of age as for set in the regulations 188 to 190;
(2) If he drives such a vehicle -
(A) Regulations 176 to 181 - his stay in Israel, since the last entry, does not exceed in aggregate one year, unless he left Israel during this period more than three months, in aggregate;
(B) Regulations 182 to 185 - his stay in Israel, since the last entry, does not exceed in aggregate three months unless he left Israel during this period more than 30 days in aggregate.
567A. A returning Resident and new immigrant's driver's license
A new immigrant, an Israeli citizen or resident of Israel permitted to reside in Israel permanently, who was staying abroad for a continuous period of at least one year before the last day of entry into Israel, may use a foreign driver's license, , in the corresponding grade level of his driver's license, for a period of one year since entry into Israel as long as terms of age are met as outlined in regulations 188 to 190. "
As one might see, the provisions of the regulations are unclear and provide difficult situations in the circumstances laid out. Israeli Courts also expressed resentment on the wording of these regulations. The legislature has not yet found it necessary to bring order into this issue and clear the situation described above.
In the procedure of assessment of the client's case, we found the court's reference to the provisions of these regulations in Case (TA) 42995/04 The State of Israel v. N. Yemini, judgment of the Honorable Justice M.. Drury dated 10/01/2006. The case facts are identical to the case treated by us. The Hon. Justice ruling states as follows (this is a non binding translation – the Hebrew original text prevails – J.W)
"Under these circumstances as every other tourist coming to Israel to visit every few months may drive a car on driver's license he received in his country, so is the defendant entitled to drive on the basis of his U.S. driver's license when he comes to Israel every few months in accordance with the provisions of Rule 567….."
Thought-provoking things were handed by The Hon. Judge A. Tennenbaum in case (JER) 8851/05 The State of Israel by Israeli police v. Silberman Israel, on 30/10/2005 as follows: (this is a non binding translation – the Hebrew original text prevails – J.W)
8. As can be seen clearly in these regulations, the first one treats a person who is not a foreign resident and the second one treats new immigrants and returning residents. The question to be how these regulations should be interpreted?
9. Interpretation of The Accuser is simple. In His opinion, the 1st regulation (567) treats persons that are not Israeli citizens as it refers specifically to one that is not an Israeli resident. The 2nd regulation refers specifically to an Israeli citizen; therefore this regulation is relevant to The Accused. As The Accused did not stay outside the borders of Israel a period of one year continuously before his last entry into Israel, this regulation does not apply to him either and the conclusion is that he drove without a valid license.
Can a citizen not be a "non-resident""
10. I can not accept this interpretation. Prosecutors seek an easy way for interpretation of the regulations. Israeli citizenship as we know is not always easy to achieve, and even more difficult to be rid of it. Definition of "residency" is not necessarily a part of definition of citizenship which are two non-overlapping definitions. In other words one can be a citizen and not be a resident. Precisely in Israel there are many examples of this. There are many Israeli citizens who do not live in Israel for many years. Can this be a reason to say that they are always "residents"? Could someone who lives abroad for many years and comes to visit his family in Israel be called a "resident"? It is clear that these persons are not residents.
As he continues:
14. Regulation 567 states that a non-resident of Israel will be defined as having a valid license "if his stay in Israel, since the last entry, does not exceed in aggregate one year, unless he left Israel during this period more than three months to accumulate.
I have put in effort in interpretation of this regulation and I could not understand it. This is because if a man entered Israel but left the country before 1 year is over, his day of last entry changed immediately and becomes the day of his new arrival. In the simple, one who enters Israel and did not stay continuously for a whole year, he could always avoid the demand to convert his license to an Israeli license. It is clear to me that it was not propably the Legislator's intention but I must admit that I could not understand his intention.
15. I have considered if there is room for "creative" interpretation, but I concluded that this is not the case. First – the rule in Criminal law that any interpretation should be in favor of the accused , but moreover, if the court fails to understand the regulation in a simple way, how can we demand it from the accused? In general the traffic regulations should be simple to any driver, and this is the case about this regulation before us. "
In our case, we raised several arguments to The Hon. Court of Appeal from the discipline of the Administrative Law that deserved The Honorable Court's opinion on them, but the appeal was accepted, the conviction was canceled upon agreement, without us in need of these arguments.
It should be emphasized that we wanted to balance between the interest that Israelis living abroad wish to maintain Israeli citizenship (a national interest worth to be upheld by itself) and the state's position that in such cases it should be demanded from these citizens living abroad, the administrative duty to maintain a valid Israeli driver's license.
We proposed to define the status of those Israelis driving a rented vehicle under a foreign license as for a "tourist holding Israeli citizenship" and that no discrimination should be made between them and a "tourist with a foreign citizenship" that is allowed to drive in Israel under existing special arrangements concerning rented vehicles.
After the abolition of the conviction upon appeal, the client returned to his country and we thought that we helped to correct something and to improve somewhat the feelings of "Israeli tourists" towards Israel.
But we found that even after our case, there are still cases in which the Honorable Court upheld the defendant's conviction of the offense of driving without a valid license, under similar circumstances to the one in our case. In the case of C.A (JER) 4376/09 Yael Waldinger v. State of Israel, The Honorable District Court of Jerusalem turned down the defendant's request to cancel the convicting verdict given ex parte, on grounds , that -
The defendant should have submitted a request for early hearing in her matter to the date where she will be in Israel,
The criminal offence is not severe
The upholding of the conviction will not cause the defendant a distortion of justice.
The Honorable Judge Ravid referred to our issue briefly.
Therefore it seems to me, that lawyers like me will continue to hear complaints from our brothers across the sea and we'll try to explain the State's position on this issue.
I can not understand the interest protected by The State in this matter. The regulations should be modified, clarified and should make possible for all "tourists with Israeli citizenship" to drive with rental cars in Israel under foreign driver's license.
Let us not forget that those Israelis living abroad, have children born there and that there is a chance that because of their cultural background, these children would choose one day to tie their fate with their parents' homelands, The State of Israel. They should know that Israel was welcoming and did not make it difficult for their families to maintain ties with their homeland.