31 March 2008

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.


At 2:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a simple and just way to resolve the problem over the road:

The road was built by seizing private Palestinian land. Israel's argument: we are doing it to benefit the local Palestinian population. The Court approves.

Now, with the violence in the road (which, although terrible, was not especially high or unique), the road is closed to Palestinians, forcing them to travel on dirt roads, encounter more roadblocks, and extend their travel by a great deal of time (Betselem has a video about the hardships caused from closing the road for Palestinians).

Solution: fulfill the road's original purpose. The road was built for Palestinians but is now dangerous for Jews? OK. Open the road for Palestinians only. Prohibit Jews from using it.

This solution is not perfect, but it's surely better than making the lives of Palestinians even harder than what they are now.

Of course, the quality of life for Israelis will suffer under my proposed solution. If they want to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv they will have to spend 10 more minutes on the road. Lord have mercy.

As a closing, just some inside information from MY sources at ACRI. ACRI has not officially adopted the apartheid rhetoric and is not seriously considering international tribunals. Even Adala, an organization which is more "extreme" than ACRI recently held a sort of symposium over that question and almost all people there said that they are going to continue to turn to the Israeli courts.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Thanks for your comment. I would agree except that your proposed solution would seem to mean rewarding terror. Don't like Israelis on the road in the territories? Shoot a few.

I expect that you would say there is no limit to the argument I have proposed--that security concerns can be abused to justify anything Israel does. And you would be right. So the courts may need to balance security needs against property rights and so on. However, in the current climate it is going to be very tough for any Israeli court to overrule security concerns.

I hope you are right about ACRI's intentions. I think the use of "apartheid" and turning to international institutions would be quite problematic. I heard talk about it already last summer and it bothered me then, as it bothers me know. I think ACRI needs to appeal directly to the Israeli people before jumping from the Israeli courts straight into the maelstrom of international legal battle.

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that it's difficult for the Court to overrule security concerns. I do have problems with the Court, but also with the authorities that got us to where we are today. The Court should not be alone in sharing the blame.

As to your point about rewarding terror - not really. I was actually making a legal argument. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention the occupying power has the duty to take care of protected people. The consensus in the international community, including the international tribunals (not just the ICJ's silly decision about the Wall) is that protected persons means those who are occupied, in this case the Palestinians. Indeed, that is the only way the building of the road could have been justified, and that is the justification Israel used when it began building it.

Protected persons are not settlers and are definitely not people from Tel Aviv traveling to Jerusalem and back.

So, closing the road to Jews would actually be completely in line with Israel's international obligations, with or without terrorist attacks.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Thanks again--this is a good discussion (so rare on blogs these days).

I think you are correct that closing the road to Israelis would be in line with international law. But is that the only option under international law? Would international law forbid Israelis from using a road whose primary purpose was to benefit the Palestinians? I don't think so.

So then the security issue comes in, and at that point I think the law of occupation makes it clear that the occupying power has the right to protect itself and its citizens.

The trouble, as you say, is that the road itself may have created the security risk that Israel is now demanding the right to respond to. However, we know that prior to the intifada Israelis and Palestinians both used the road peacefully.

I think what this issue exposes is the fact that international law is a severely limited tool for conflict resolution. Legally, the two issues--occupation and security--have to be separated. Politically, they are connected (whether we like it or not). That's where negotiation and politics have to come in.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Joel. There's much I agree with, but here are some quibbles:

1. You say "Would international law forbid Israelis from using a road whose primary purpose was to benefit the Palestinians? I don't think so."

Right, I don't think so either. However, if the situation is that only one people can safely travel on the road then I think that Int'l law, in this case, would favor the protected persons and not the occupying power. This, it seems to me, is one of the rationales underlying the Fourth Geneva Convention.

2. I agree that Int'l law is a limited tool. Even Int'l lawyers would concede that point to you. However, from that it doesn't follow that "Legally, the two issues--occupation and security--have to be separated". The Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations take security considerations into account and they allow the military commander to act if there are security concerns or military needs (to various degrees, depending on the case).

Here, however, I just don't think the situation is that complicated. Int'l law is pretty clear, but the Court has chosen an interpretation which is not acceptable. This is not the first time, as it also refused to apply section 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to settlements and has consistently "misapplied" other humanitarian provisions, such as the prohibition againt house demolitions and the right to hearing that should be afforded prior to deportations of Palestinians.


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