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Monday, February 06, 2006

Law & Order

[OK, I'll admit that being a bit of a TV Law & Order junkie I couldn't resist using that title.]

I have to add a few important things to what I wrote yesterday... partly because many people don't have the patience to pick through the comments where I've already said them, and partly because a few people took exactly the wrong message from my post.

First of all I have seen several people taking my friend Imshin to task for statements she made on her site.  You may be surprised to hear this, but I am 99.9% with Imshin when it comes to anyone making sweeping derogatory remarks about the entire police force.  No society can function without these overworked, underpaid public servants... and in a society as complicated and politicized as ours, their job is 20 times as hard to carry out.

That said, I think it is important to examine the many accusations leveled at the government and at very specific units within the police department within the very narrow scope of the events at Amona.

The role of the police is to uphold and enforce the law.  They have very clear limits on what they may and may not do in order to carry out this essential role... and in a free society the 'bad guys' almost always have a wider range of options than do the police who want to stop them.

However, what I am hearing over and over again from left-leaning bloggers and commenters are the following troubling misconceptions about the role of the government and police in these events:

1.  "It was an illegal settlement, so whatever the police had to do to dismantle it was justified".

No, this is incorrect.  Speeding is also illegal and probably puts many more people at risk than those 9 buildings in Amona.  But a policeman may not pull me out of my car and club me into submission simply because I am acting recklessly outside the law. [Note:  this should not be taken as an admission that I, um, speed.]

2.  "The settlers were planning to act violently so the police/Ashamnikim came prepared for a fight."

This is a matter for an independent commission of inquiry... something the settlers are demanding and the government authorities have thus far refused to even consider.  Given the tremendous amount of still and video coverage of the event, eye-witness testimony from both the police and demonstrators as well as medical reports on those who were admitted to hospitals after the clash... it seems odd that the authorities would shy away from having an independent investigative commission bring forth findings that would support this second quote and put to rest claims of illegal/excessive use of force.

3.  "Considering how violent the settlers were in Kfar Darom this past summer you can't blame the police for taking off the kid gloves."

Yes I can.  First of all, the events of Kfar Darom represent the exception to what everyone would agree was an otherwise extremely peaceful disengagement.  Several of the more inflammatory claims (acid, caustic soda, guns, knives, etc.) made at the time have since been completely discredited, but that doesn't set aside the fact that there was indeed violence directed against government appointed representatives. 

However, 'kid gloves' is exactly what the police must use whenever dealing with citizens.  Their role is to enforce the law, not mete out punishment.  This simple point is lost on far too many people who view religious settlers as deserving whatever they got because of real or imagined past bad deeds.  The police are not empowered to punish a perpetrator of a crime, and they are not allowed an institutional memory of past offenses.  They must know the law and abide by it. 

4.  "The injuries were evenly distributed between demonstrators and police"

Again, an independent inquiry would clear up this myth once and for all.  I grieve for ANY injury sustained in Amona... especially those sustained by the police.  I say this because, regardless of what I may say about their actions while they were there, the police had no choice about showing up for this demonstration... whereas the settlers made an informed decision to put themselves at risk.  Civil disobedience always presents a risk to those who practice it.

However, the hospital records do not bear out anything close to an even split in the injured parties.  This is partially attributable to the fact that the police were wearing protective gear while the demonstrators were not.  But it is also a pretty clear indication of who was doing most of the attacking and who was mostly on the defensive. 

There are several reliable reports of police being given orders to aim for the heads of demonstrators with their batons.  This is born out by the footage of police swinging almost exclusively for the demonstrator's heads.  This is contrary to every known military and police doctrine in the use of batons.  An independent board of inquiry would establish once and for all what orders were given, whether the orders were legal and/or whether the police exceeded the limits of force allowed by law. 

5.  "Amona was an illegal outpost... Complaining that the police removed it and not illegal Arab houses is like the burglar caught red-handed who complains because the police arrested him and not the guy breaking into the house next door."

No, bad analogy.  It is more like the government and police having full knowledge of all law-breakers (speeders, burglars, tax cheats, etc.) in a particular town, yet allowing an institutionally sanctioned policy of only apprehending the Jewish ones.  The law is supposed to be blind of all racial, religious, gender and political considerations.  If the law can't (or won't) be applied equally across the entire population which is subject to it then it can not legally or morally be applied at all. 

The reason so many people keep coming back to the fact that illegal Jewish construction and agricultural development is singled out for prosecution while illegal Arab construction and agricultural development is allowed to continue unhindered is because it offers compelling proof that the government is applying the law unequally.  This is a problem in a democracy.

6.  "Why was the government required to negotiate and/or compromise with the settlers when they [the settlers] were so clearly starting from an illegal position?"

An excellent question that has not gotten nearly enough attention.  The simple answer is the government has a responsibility to use restraint with it's citizens, even when those citizens are acting outside the boundaries of the law.  Do we shoot kidnappers on sight or do we negotiate with them to try and bring a hostage crisis to a peaceful resolution?  Do we shoot a fleeing suspect in the back or do we require the police to chase them down and handcuff them?  I could go on but you get my point. 

Nobody disputes the illegality of the settlement of Amona (although it is in a much more benign class of 'crime' than either of the examples above).  Even if it had legally 'gray' status at its inception (which is a tough argument to make), the moment the government declared Amona illegal and a closed military zone, its status became 'illegal'... black & white... end of story. 

But you also had the settler leadership who were authorized to speak for ALL the people at Amona saying to the government "OK, you win... over the past few weeks we have exhausted all our legal channels and the supreme court has now ruled against us. We will give up this site... this land... and ensure the peaceful dispersal of all the residents.  But please allow us one week to take these 9 buildings with us to the nearby legal community of Ofra.  This way you get what you want... and most important we can both exit with dignity and without the need for any confrontation."   

Was the government required to negotiate with the settlers?  No.  But were they required to use restraint in dealing with their citizens?  Yes.  However, instead of showing restraint and seizing the opportunity to bring the stand-off to a peaceful and legally satisfactory conclusion, the government inexplicably chose to send in mounted police combat troops in full battle gear with orders to inflict maximum injury on Israeli citizens.  So why did the government pursue this dangerous course of action?  I offered my theory in yesterday's post. 

Civil disobedience is an extremely effective tool precisely because it frustrates police in their efforts.  A large group of well organized people sitting or standing with linked arms presents a daunting manpower problem for the police and requires a tremendous investment of time, manpower and energy to overcome.  It is precisely because civil disobedience is so effective that many governments eventually prefer to negotiate with peaceful demonstrators rather than tie up all their police and/or military manpower in physically carrying them away.  But by law, police or government frustration with this tactic does not allow an escalation to violence and/or extra-judicial retribution.  That is illegal on a level far above civil disobedience.  As an aside, the civil rights movement in America, and the independent nation of India are two examples of how effective 'illegal' non-violent civil disobedience can be... even when met with 'legal' police and/or military violence.

Emotions are running very high in the aftermath of Amona with two very different views emerging of the events.  The only reasonable way to set aside speculation and quell the rumors is for an independent investigative body to be empowered to investigate what happened from start to finish on BOTH SIDES of the conflict.  This means requiring the government to explain its decision to turn down a peaceful resolution and pursue a potentially dangerous / violent confrontation.  This also means requiring the settler leadership to account for every documented/recorded act of offensive violence against the government forces... and any that do not meet the minimum threshold for self-defense must be identified and charged.

If such an investigation ever comes to pass, I think that it would have two important results:

a)  It would reestablish public confidence in the police and security forces by providing public proof that their actions are subject to impartial scrutiny and that both the government and it's agents are as bound by the law as the citizenry.

b)  It would reassure both the public and government that future acts of civil disobedience will in fact be non-violent by allowing the settler leadership to demonstrate its willingness to identify and root out violent actors and provocateurs in their midst.

Or, as I like to point out, I could be completly full of sh*t.


Posted by David Bogner on February 6, 2006 | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 6, 2006 9:24:04 PM


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There is a problem with the word settler.

This is not profound, nor a new statement but I think that this is part of the problem.

In a time in which some people question ownership and entitlement to land using the word settler plays right into that.

If I move to a house in the middle of the Mojave desert one could say that I am living like a settler but no one would suggest that I am living on land that I might not have legal ownership of.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 7, 2006 9:04:23 PM

Trepp -

I fully agree with your point about the settlers' methods. If we learn anything from Gerush Aza, it should be that grassroots settlement is over; sectarian mafdalnik settlers need to instead get involved at the national level, and help bring about a government that will work to build, rather than destroy. I hope more Anglo olim will get involved in this effort as well.

Posted by: Ben | Feb 7, 2006 9:10:56 PM

Touche Jack. I cringed each and every time I typed that word -- I simply lack a better alternative. In the interest of efficiently communicating my thoughts I played into that very problem -- would love to hear a solution!

Posted by: zahava | Feb 7, 2006 9:38:00 PM

I wonder if anyone has spent any real time trying to develop an alternative.

Considering the state of hasbara I am not real confident about it.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 7, 2006 9:56:18 PM

Zahava, to my knowledge, settlers have different motivations in the West Bank. From religious love of the land to a financially motivating incentives.
Israel did not leave Gaza for NOTHING. They are defining their borders, and making intelligent choices for the future of Israel.
Read my views when it happened: http://tinyurl.com/9hoc9

Israel will now define her borders. And believe it or not, I'm a Bibi fan.

Posted by: Bacon Eating Atheist Jew | Feb 8, 2006 12:16:18 AM

Thanks Trepp, this is the most logical thing I have read on this subject anywhere.

Should it ever be okay to beat unarmed minors? Or even armed ones if life is not in danger? Here in Canada it is even illegal to jail minors.

Israel needs a leader, not a fight picker. It would be nice to at least see an attemp to keep the peace.

Posted by: Tim | Feb 8, 2006 12:52:04 AM

BEAJ: You make it sound as though the right would rather have the land than peace. This is not the case. The right simply rejects the notion that peace can be purchased with land.

Yes, the love for the land itself stems from religious basis. So what?! All that proves is that we see the land as having value. And value measured in more than simple real estate terms.

And the idea that the land has value does not in any way imply that it has more value than the humans who inhabit it. It does, however, suggest that perhaps -- just maybe -- that value should be honored with the exchange of something ELSE of value for that land. Perhaps a treaty? Perhaps a crack-down on terror?

The NOTHING to which I referred earlier vis-a-vis the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was the exchange of something of value from the Palestinians. Yes. In theory, we got something out of the withdrawal. Those borders -- they seem to be helping a lot, though. Now instead of Kassams falling in Kfar Darom they inch ever closer to Ashekon and Ashdod.

Please define "to my knowledge" in your opening statemtent. What does that knowledge consist of? Is that knowledge factually based? Opinion? Intuition?

Lastly, define financially motivating incentives. I am aware that there are marginally more favorable mortgage rates for living in development areas -- both INSIDE and outside the Green Line. Is this what you mean by financially motivating incentives?

I find it very upsetting and slanderous that many of the commentors, yourself included, seem to be implying that the settler movement is guilty of financial corruption -- choosing personal financial gain over the welfare of the State. And if by financial incentives you instead refer to not wanting to lose a lifetime's worth of equity in a home for which they will not receive adequate compensation, then the word "incentive" is ill-fitting.

Posted by: zahava | Feb 8, 2006 1:33:32 AM

My knowledge is based mainly on reading. I've been wrong before about certain facts, but usually I'm pretty good.
Treaties in Israel are nonsense. No point. A crackdown? I'm all for it. As soon as Israel defines her borders, I'm for carpet bombing the Arabs if, I mean when..they attack.
I am looking for an end result. Having 8500 Jews surrounded by 1 million Arabs, will never lead to a solution. Having internation boundaries can.
Financial motivation includes mortgage breaks, job guarantees, and actually a better financial situation for some of the Russian immigrants who become settlers.
I'm not talking about incentive when it comes to losing a home, but it is definitely a financial motivation not to lose a home, as it should.
I believe it was costing Israel close to half a million dollars a year to make Amona secure. That is a poor use of funds by Israel if that is true. And morally if I was living there, I would be feel somewhat guilty knowing that the government was spending that much to keep me somewhat secure. I would most likely move willingly.

Posted by: Bacon Eating Atheist Jew | Feb 8, 2006 2:52:43 AM

Lisoosh... I could have predicted you would say that, and I would like to use an admittedly unfair argument: What would a raw statistical analysis based on the relative number of such government actions look like when overlaid on the Jewish and Arab populations where these laws are being unevenly enforced? I am not saying the government never turns its attentions to illegal Arab development... just that statistically the enforcement is hugely weighted against the illegal Jewish development.

Tracey... For wrong or for right, a large segment of the population already views the government and it's police/security forces with deep suspicion (just as the government and police view the settlers with a jaundiced eye. This is why I wrote about the need for an independent investigation of such alleged abuses (by both sides) so that the healing can begin.

Ben... Unfortunately, to play at the national level costs a lot of money, and to set up a demonstration is relatively cheap. To sit at the table with the decision makers the settler movement has to find some financial backers willing to put a team of lawyers on full-time retainer. Unfortunately, so far all I see is a bunch of teenagers standing around with banners saying "We need to DO something!".

Tim... Thank you. I'm not saying I'm 100% right... but it's nice to know that a few people share my thinking... flaws and all.

Atheist... "I believe it was costing Israel close to half a million dollars a year to make Amona secure." And I believe you pulled that number directly out of your butt... but let's work with your number anyway. Are you implying that Israel should make all of it's border/security decisions based entirely on a financial basis... fire the generals and hire a bunch of CPAs to define Israel's final frontiers? Security is expensive... the cost of the wall alone, not counting the manpower that will be necessary to continuously monitor it on a 24/7 basis, is astronomical. Are you suggesting that the drain the wall is placing on the Israeli economy invalidates it's effectiveness or necessity? All of your arguments are the same claptrap I have been hearing for years 'If the settlers really cared about Israel they would do what's best for the country and just leave'. This kind of statement is arrogant and demonstrates the speaker's inability to fathom that there might be more than one opinion on what is good for Israel.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 8, 2006 8:54:10 AM

Job guarantees? Really? Where do I sign up?

Seems like an awful lot of former settlers from Gush Katif were not able to take those job guarantees to the bank.

According to a number of reports, many families who were evacuated this past summer are still without homes or jobs. And these families are not just those who resisted the evacuation -- there are a number of families who left willingly, and "for the good of the State" (as you put it) whose lives are on indefinite hold, who have yet to see the compensatory portion of the disengagement plan realized.

Posted by: zahava | Feb 8, 2006 10:30:59 AM

David - Hate to be predictable, I'll have to come up with a surprise then.
Actually, I think a statistical analysis would be appropriate, is an excellent idea and not unfair at all. You could be proved right 100% and if the stats bear that out then I couldn't be happier.
How would you separate them out? Green line and over? And where would annexed portions of Jerusalem fit in? (Asked because they are not defined as a military zone.) You could e-mail me any information you have from the settler movement on illegal building/refusal to grant permits and demolitions. Hopefully there will be sufficient information on the other side from activist groups that can be confirmed (I'll have to work out how). So actually, as an intellectual challange and out of curiosity, I'll take you up on it.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Feb 8, 2006 3:41:55 PM

Lisoosh... Here's the way I had in mind:

Illegal Jewish buildings or agricultural development anywhere (inside or outside the green line)

Illegal Arab buildings or agricultural development within the green line and within any area that has been annexed by Israel.

For the sake of analysis we're looking only at demolition, eviction or stop work orders as expressed as a % of the official Jewish and Arab populations in the areas I've described above. I posit that a disproportionately larger % of Jews have been subject to enforcement. Get to work. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 8, 2006 3:52:12 PM

Ha Ha.
I'll start with buildings rather than agriculture because I'm not entirely sure how to get accurate information on that (if you have reliable sources please point me in the right direction). Though I'm willing to cede that there is probably greater activity on the Arab side just based on a rough assessment of their economy and culture.

There is a problem in comparing only annexed and green line areas on the Arab side and including settlements within the territories on the Jewish side because the territories are subject to some degree to military administration (whether or not you agree with that designation) and is subject to treaties and agreements that Israel makes on an international basis, the other areas are not. So I will separate them but will have to include Arab villages within the territories.
I would also like to include permits requested but denied, for both sides, partly because the Arab complaint is that they build illegally because they are not given sufficient permits so that would be interesting to verify.
I'll check administration rules for annexed areas.

Crap....hope this doesn't take forever to research. If you have info, hand it over because I can't search on this computer in Hebrew so have to work through English channels.

By the way - if I do have to eat a hat can it be of organic material???

Posted by: Lisoosh | Feb 8, 2006 4:40:01 PM

Ha Ha Ha. This is going to take a while. Just preliminary research shows all sorts of problems. In East Jerusalem alone house demolitions of Arabs are carried out under numerous different auspices - Jerusalem municipality, Interior Ministery and the military. Numbers for housing starts and permits are old and contained in separate locations. In the territories, Jews and Arabs live in a military zone but within Jewish settlements some laws are Israeli laws while Arabs are covered under military and Jordanian law (and sometimes Ottoman, whatever is convenient) it is a mess. I've contacted some reputable people/organizations for assistance in sourcing information but it will probably be a while (I do like to do things right and prefer reputable sources).
I took a look at Yoram Ettengers web site as a lot of "right wing" blogs cite his assertions (he looks familiar, I think I might have met him a few times) and his figures don't seem to match up with preliminary government figures at all. He doesn't provide sources to back his claims.
I'll e-mail updates.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Feb 8, 2006 5:59:50 PM

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