31 March 2008 - Israel's rights groups going global?
The New York Times reported last week that “[f]or the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.” The organization that brought the case to court was the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which has lately been drawn towards using the Israel-apartheid analogy as a rhetorical and political weapon.
The road in question is Route 443, which many Israelis use as a shortcut through the western bit of the West Bank. In 1982, a challenge to the legality of the road led the Supreme Court to decide that it could only be built if its primary purpose was to serve Palestinians. That ruling conformed to the international law of occupation.
The Court’s recent ruling now allows the government to keep Palestinians off the road because of the danger to Israeli drivers—a real danger, as evidenced by fatal shootings and stonings of Israelis. ACRI is reacting by claiming that if this policy is repeated elsewhere, then Israel will be guilty of “apartheid.” A source at ACRI tells me the organization is about to abandon the Israeli courts altogether and turn to international forums to try to pressure the Israeli government to change course.
Aside from the short-sightedness of such a move—which would hurt Israel internationally and undermine ACRI’s already narrow ledge of public support in Israel—it is also quite inappropriate. There are two issues here. One is the building of the road itself, which may be objectionable in its own right, given evidence that the government’s real purpose in building it was expansionist.
The other issue is the real danger of attacks against Israelis on the road. These two issues are not linked and cannot be linked, for to do so would be to justify terror against Israeli civilians. In the context of an ongoing peace process, there are other ways for Palestinians to pursue territorial grievances. And in the context of deadly violence, the Court’s decision is not about “apartheid,” but protecting the innocent.
I worked as an intern for ACRI last summer, and I really liked the people there. Many of them, both Jews and Arabs are patriotic Israelis who only want the best for their country. Unfortunately ACRI may now be pursuing a political strategy that will hurt the cause of human rights in Israel in the long run. If they pursue the “apartheid” path then protest against ACRI and its sponsors may be in order.