Let us assume that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is legal and necessary. It was conquered in a legal, defensive war. It is necessary in order to prevent terror attacks against Israelis: Military presence is crucial both to intelligence gathering and to security measures, such as checkpoints, which are necessary in order to save the lives of Israeli civilians. Israel is in compliance with UN Resolution 242 because it officially accepts a two-state solution and plans to give up territories captured in 1967, as soon as it becomes viable for them to do so without endangering Israel’s survival.
The Occupation would still be an affront to justice, and the rule of law and order.
The Occupation is characterized, by its nature, by lawlessness. Because the West Bank is identified as a military zone, and not part of Israel, Israeli law does not apply to anyone who is an Israeli citizen. This means that, de facto, there are two sets of laws for two groups of people -an affront to the “blind justice” and equality before the law that are the bullwark of modern democracies.
The Occupation is classified by a feeling of randomness: If you’re Palestinian, you don’t know in advance when your village will be closed off or if you’ll get held up at the checkpoint. Of course, from the Israeli perspective, these acts are not random -they are in response to a security threat. But they still feel random to the Palestinian civilians who live under Israeli occupation.
The Occupation results in many Palestinians, including minors, being held in administrative detention, without being accorded the due process rights that belong to a citizen of any democracy – because they’re not citizens of a democracy. Although it’s unclear if an independent Palestine would grant its citizens due process, it’s also very clear, that at that point, the presence of due process (or lack thereof) would not be Israel’s doing, and therefore, not it’s moral responsibility.
So it’s no wonder that the Israeli Supreme Court, the national symbol of justice, chose not to attend an event celebrating the Occupation.
The right-wing outrage at the Supreme Court for not giving symbolic sanction to 50 years of occupation is, at best, petty. At worst, it is an attempt to limit the independence of the judicial branch – one of the key steps on the road to authoritarianism; a democracy is only as strong as its ability to enforce its own laws, and to apply them equally to all citizens.
Of course, this equality is almost never perfect – but it is something that true democracies strive for.
In authoritarian countries, by contrast, the law is unevenly applied, with friends of the regime getting free passes, and enemies of the regime finding themselves behind bars for minor examples. Russia is a great example of this phenomenon.
The question of whether or not the Israeli Supreme Court should attend a celebration of settlements might seem petty, but in fact, it relates to the larger question of where we want to go as a nation: Do we want to become more democratic, or less?
Yom Kippur is an excellent time to ponder that question, and indeed, an excellent time to look upon the past 50 years and ask whether they have moved us closer or further away from where we wish to be as a nation -and whether it is appropriate for the government to spend 10 million NIS on a celebration of the Occupation when so many Israelis are worrying about buying food for the holidays.
Wishing you and yours a shana tova umetuka – a sweet and happy new year.