When Law Enforcement is a Crime, by Amos Gvirtz

This is no provocation, although saying that in certain cases law enforcement is a crime might place me in dangerous waters – I find this discussion important.

History has seen cases where the enforcement of certain laws was a crime in itself: the Nurnberg laws against the Jews of Germany, South Africa’s apartheid laws, and the racist laws of the southern states in the US. All of these were laws that impacted people because of their belonging rather than their actions. The injured parties could do nothing to prevent their fate.

Here in Israel things are somewhat more complicated. Over the years of my human rights activity, and especially regarding the right to shelter, in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, I face the claim to legality of home demolitions. Indeed, a modern state cannot exist without planning and construction laws. Unlike criminal laws – that give legal validity to moral values (no stealing, no killing, etc.) – these laws in themselves have no moral significance, only planning considerations. Importantly, these laws characteristically enable politicians and ministry officials to rule what is legal and what is not. The government of Israel has decided not to recognize the Bedouin villages that existed in the Sayag zone (south of the West Bank) even prior to the founding of the State. The very government that transferred Bedouin tribes from their lands into the Sayag zone refrained from legalizing and recognizing the villages it created. The Israeli government decided to declare most of the Sayag lands exclusively cultivable land, thus criminalizing any Bedouin seeking to realize his right to shelter in his village!

Behind these facts hides policy. Note that Israeli governments continued to expel Bedouins from the State until 1959. Beside expulsion, they concentrated the remaining Bedouins inside the Sayag zone and stole their lands. Since the 1960s the Bedouins have been assigned to dwell in government-built towns. In other words, these are citizens in whom Israel’s governments are consistently not interested (just as in all of the State’s Palestinian citizens). Since they can no longer be expelled, the State attempts to reduce their living space as much as possible, while stealing nearly all of their lands. This is a nationalist-racist policy that impacts people only because they have been born Palestinian-Arabs in the Jewish state. Naturally the official establishment must not utter such things explicitly, so a false discourse of law enforcement is created. After all, people cannot be simply expelled from their homes and villages for no reason. So the State plants forests and to that purpose enforce the law upon villages that they wish to evacuate. This is what happened in Tawayel Abu Jarawal situated near the town of Laqia, and at present replaced by a JNF forest planted on its ruins. Thus Al Arakib has already been demolished over 100 times because the State “must” complete planting the Ambassadors’ Forest on its ruins. Thus the government has ruled to build Jewish Hiran precisely at the site of the Bedouin village of Umm Al Hiran.

Thus, too, in the Occupied Territories: homes are demolished to make Palestinians leave, or to limit the expansion of their localities. Israeli Policemen inside Israel and soldiers in the Territories are told that they are enforcing the law. They are not told that such law enforcement is conducted on behalf of a policy that is not to be openly discussed.

Rabbi Kahane’s “Kach” political party was outlawed because it openly and loudly declared what it wanted to do and did, the unutterable. The political party “Moledet” was defamed for the same reason. Headed by a retired army general, however, it could not be outlawed.

If any country in the world would dare do to Jews what Israel is doing to its own Bedouin citizens (and its other Palestinian citizens), or to the Palestinians living under its occupation, we would name that country’s law enforcement anti-Semitic. When a legal situation is created whereby citizens cannot realize their human right to shelter, because they have been born Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule, the enforcement of the planning and construction laws is criminal!

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