What’s a government for if not to protect all citizens?

Having written a blog on a completely different subject, only recently, I am loth to burden my readers with another one.

Events in Israel, however, make it impossible to avoid speaking out. I am referring, of course, to the recent pogrom in Huwara. The fact that, in the sole Jewish state, innocent people can see their houses, possessions and hence their livelihoods destroyed; that large numbers have been severely maimed and, in at least, one case, killed is serious enough.

The fact that the army stood by and allowed this to happen, however, is far worse. The army which can use tear gas and other riot control means to suppress peaceful demonstrators in Tel Aviv, is unable to restrain a mob breaching the law to attack  innocent Palestinians  and destroy their property and endanger their lives.

I sense an objection here. Are these Palestinians innocent? Don’t they want to kill Israelis,  and destroy the state? 

It is true that there are many Palestinians who are bitterly hostile to Israel, and to Jews, but collective punishment of an entire community, including people who have clearly done nothing wrong, like young children, is no response to this hostility. 

Besides on purely prudential grounds this is a disastrous policy. The Arabs in Israel and  the territories are not going to leave, for all Ben Gvir’s rhetoric about who is the the Ba’al Habayit?(the master of the house).  

Israelis wave national flags during protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. Thousands of Israelis protested outside the country’s parliament on Monday ahead of a preliminary vote on a bill that would give politicians greater power over appointing judges, part of a judicial overhaul proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

They are a substantial minority – possibly soon a majority – in any event a group, who whether they are given basic rights or not, are a permanent presence in the land and whose rights and welfare deserve respect.

Some months ago I wrote about an unprovoked pogrom in a completely different part of the west Bank, in Mufagara in the South Hebron hills. 

There,  a Jewish mob, though less violent than this one, rampaged through a Palestinian village while soldiers looked on and only intervened to restrain residents who tried to resist the rioters. That event, however, seemed to end well. 

The head of the local army unit, Aluf Yehuda Fuchs, met with the residents of the village (itself a big advance)and acknowledged that the job of the army was to protect all residents. It sounded quite noble at the time but, in fact, was no more than a statement of the obvious. 

What is a government’s purpose if, not to protect its citizens? – and that surely means all its citizens.  Nevertheless it seemed mean spirited not to welcome Aluf Fuchs’ words. We hoped that this would mark a new beginning.How wrong we were. 

Much has happened since that pogrom. Most notably a new government in which law and order is the responsibility of Itamar Ben Gvir a man who by his own account has been indicted more than 13 times on charges of incitement and has been convicted. 

When criminals are not even being charged it can only be that their actions are not regarded as proper crimes and that the Palestinian residents of Huwara are not entitled to the protection of the law.

A man, who the IDF refused to accept as a common soldier, because of his extremist views and criminal record, who kept a photo in his office of Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer who killed 29 Arabs, using a machine gun, wounding 105 others, when they were at prayer in a mosque in 1994, is now in charge of security in the Occupied Territories.

The next twist to this story though shocking is not surprising. Of at least one hundred people involved in the riot only 11 were arrested and now all those Jewish people arrested have been released three into house arrest.

What message is this meant to put out? When criminals are not even being charged it can only be that their actions are not regarded as proper crimes and that the Palestinian residents of Huwara are not entitled to the protection of the law. The riot was bad but the government’s indifference is worse.

While democracy is about the rule of the people, by the people, for the people expressed by a majority of them it is also about the rule of law. To paraphrase Lord Denning ‘be you ever so high the law is above you and be you ever so low the law will protect you’. 

Lets hope the rulers of Israel will reflect on these words.

About the Author
I studied at Yeshivat Kerem Beyavneh in Israel and then at Cambridge University. After practising as a commercial lawyer I became active in communal affairs. I was Co-Chair of British Friends of Peace Now and the New Israel Fund. I was President of the Board of Deputies and then took a Masters at UCL in Jewish History and am now doing graduate research there.