High Court reaffirms settlements are integral to Zionism

Friday, February 24 2012|Haggai Matar 972 Magazine

 

The High Court of Justice re-validated a law defining the demolition of settlements as “traumatic” – and denying claims that demolition of Palestinian houses is just as bad.

Won't be pardoned - action against siege on Gaza, 2009 (Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)Won’t be pardoned – action against siege on Gaza, 2009 (Yotam Ronen/ Activestills)

A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a televised debate (Hebrew) with a right-wing conscientious objector, Avi Biber, who became famous when he dramatically abandoned his unit while dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip as part of the Disengagement Plan. One of the less obvious disagreements we had revolved around the question of how to define our separate acts: While I argued that we both have in common a belief that some things in life are more important than law and orders, Biber rejected the comparison, and in fact refused to acknowledge himself as one who disobeyed an order, claiming that the demolition orders collided with “higher” orders which define the very essence of the Israeli army as the protector of Jews.

In many ways Biber was right. As I later said in that same debate, Jewish Israelis grow up on the notion that the world is divided into “us” (Jews) verses “them” (more or less everyone else, but especially Arabs). When sent to the army it is clear that no matter what – “our” goal is to fight Arabs over land, and defend Jews. It’s that simple, really, and any claim or act conflicting with that basic truism will have a hard time being accepted into mainstream Zionist discourse.

“Extraordinary circumstances”

Yesterday, this local truism was reaffirmed by the Israeli High Court of Justice when it rejected a petition against a law that offers amnesty to right-wing demonstrators arrested while protesting the Disengagement Plan. The law stipulated that all proceedings against right-wingers who protested the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza will be terminated and a complete amnesty and cleansing of criminal records offered to those already convicted (except for violent crimes leading to prison sentences).

Shortly after the Knesset voted the law in (January 2010). The petition in question was filed by attorneys Omer Shatz and Yiftach Cohen on behalf of left-wing activists, who claimed the law was discriminatory and is therefore bound to be overturned (full disclosure: I too was offered to co-sign the petition and refused, mainly but not solely due to my belief that the law should be broadened so as to include other sorts of political activity – not cancelled altogether). The petitioners’ stand was rejected yesterday by an overwhelming vote of 8-1 by the justices – the one, not incidentally, being the only Arab in the Israeli High Court, Justice Salim Joubran. Haaretz correspondent Chiam Levinson writes:

In her majority opinion, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who is retiring from the bench next week, called the disengagement from Gaza ‘a unique event in its force and scope.’

Beinisch noted that Israelis moved to these settlements with the backing of the government and were then forced to disrupt their lives and move against their will. ‘There is no doubt that the backdrop of the violations of the law involved extraordinary circumstances,’ Beinisch wrote, also citing the bitter controversy the disengagement engendered among members of the Israeli public.

The retiring Beinisch is considered by many in Israel to be a model liberal, especially compared with her successor Asher Grunis. Alongside the near-unanimous vote this only serves to strengthen the point: the settlements have always been considered a natural part of Zionism, and the settlers – a natural and integral part of “our” society. An “attack” on the settlements in such a scale as was in the disengagement plan is truly seen and thought of as not only controversial but also traumatic amongst “our” people.

In comparison, the routine demolishing of Palestinian homes and the appropriation of lands on both sides of the Green Line are not said to cause such an emotional impact, nor do home evictions amongst poorer classes of Israeli society, although they too are “forced to disrupt their lives and move against their will” – and so the resistance to both is still considered criminal. Even the construction of settlements on stolen lands, settlements which the High Court itself ordered demolished, do not strike the justices as extraordinary or controversial enough to justify an equal amnesty for those who resist it. In his minority stand Joubran was the only judge to mention the killing of 13 Arab citizens by police in the October 2000 demonstrations as equally traumatic and painful for the Israeli society. The Jewish judges, apparently, did not concur.

This brings us right back to Biber. As this latest ruling shows, Biber’s refusal to take part in the dismantling of Jewish settlements – ordered by the government – seems to many in Israel to be something one can sympathize with, something within the general ballpark of the Zionist game, as it stems from an inherent loyalty to “our” people. A refusal to join an army of occupation, to oppress an entire people, on the other hand, cannot enjoy the same leniency as it signals a traitorous alignment with “them.” Demonstrating against the former is now protected by law, demonstrating against the latter might still get you in jail.

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