Monday, January 16, 2012

Justice For All: The Numbers Speak

I wrote last week about a Knesset bill to determine in a new way the composition of Israel's High Court of Justice. This would tip the needle toward government power over the court, presumably, a last bastion of liberal-democratic law in a land without a constitution. The bill in question was withdrawn in the end, as Netanyahu appeared to bow to objections by moderates in the cabinet (Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, and others); and withdrawing the bill set off a round of last minute horse-trading among members of the appointments committee.

In effect, High Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman each got one person--the former, a known liberal, the latter, a known settler--and they also agreed on two "moderates" who were less well known (though one is known "Mizrahi"). Instead of high-handedness, one hand washed the other--and it's hard to say just what is worse when choosing members of the highest court in the land.

In any case, the first decision made by the High Court in the wake of this tussle leads one to wonder if the fight for civil liberties in Israel is really going to be winnable. I am speaking, of course, of the amendment to the immigration bill that refuses Israeli Arab citizens the right to bring in their wives or husbands to the country, as Jewish citizens do--especially if spouses are from the occupied territories.

I won't go into the details, which Haaretz's Gideon Levy does here, and with continuing passion. Suffice it to say the decision vividly underlines how grotesque it is becoming for Israeli leaders to present their country as a Western democracy while putting off final status negotiations and the confederative solutions these will (as I argued in Harper's) inevitably lead to--the only way to square circles of citizenship, the right of return, and so forth. The court, like the "consensus," generally confuses Jewish state with Jewish majority, and demographic hegemony with "security." This cannot go on without internal explosion or international isolation, or both.

THEN AGAIN, ONE has only to look at how the system (if that's the phrase for it) of justice works in the West Bank to know that justice has been anything but blind for a generation. And no organization has looked into that system, more thoroughly than the somewhat ironically named Yesh Din, or "There is Justice (or, perhaps, Verdict)." The chief legal counselor to Yesh Din, the indomitable Michael Sfard, recently prepared a summary report on how criminal complaints have been handled since Yesh Din began its work in 2005, which he kindly sent over to me. (Readers of Hebrew can get a pdf. of the presentation here.)
  • Of the total number of crimes committed against West Bank Palestinians, about 38% involved gunfire, 42% damaged property, and 15% encroachments on private land.
  • 91% of complaints to police resulted in no indictment: 86% of violent crimes; 96% of property crimes. Of 127 cases of olive groves being uprooted between 2006-2011, one case resulted in an indictment.
  • 66% of cases were closed because police claim the perpetrators were unknown, 24% because there were no (credible) witnesses. Under 4% of crimes brought to the military police were investigated. (In over 90% of cases, settler alibis were accepted without corroboration or further investigation.)
  • Between 2007-2011, 267 complaints were filed against soldiers; in just 30 cases (about 11%) was it decided to open an investigation.
  • 13 cases of settlers building on Palestinian private land resulted in 11 High Court injunctions; 5 of these have been violated without consequence. Land illegally built on for settler roads were retroactively expropriated for public purposes.       
The numbers speak for themselves; they are deeply disturbing. A social contract is destroyed when the rule of law loses its moral prestige. The idea that Israeli judges and police can just go through the motions in the occupied territories but otherwise take justice seriously is implausible, as, come to think of it, the decision regarding the immigration law reveals.