Deconstructing Netanyahu’s speech: No reason for applause

None of the promises of democracy Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned is fulfilled in the occupied territories

By Hagai El-Ad

“This path [to liberty] is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint meeting of Congress, May 24, 2011

The focus in Netanyahu’s speech on the – truly – “epic battle now unfolding in the Middle East” was likely meant to invoke images from Tahrir Square while diverting any attention from Israel’s own failures as we stumble and fall on the path of liberty. Indeed, as the sages have taught us, “he who wants to lie, will distance his testimony.” So, let’s try this paragraph out – not an ocean away or even in one of the neighboring countries, but rather in a place where Netanyahu’s government actually is accountable to whether these words amount to something: Let’s unpack this nth standing ovation – in the occupied Palestinian territories.

…when governments permit protests in town squares“: In the occupied territories, the IDF views all demonstrations, including non-violent protests, as illegal breaches of public order. Local Palestinian leadership involved in organizing protests is targeted by the security forces – harassed, interrogated, detained, and jailed. Casualties among demonstrators have been recorded in numerous protests throughout the territories over recent years.

… when limits are placed on the powers of rulers“: The occupied territories are subject to military law. International conventions meant to place limits on the powers of rulers in such situations are constantly violated. From the transfer of parts of Israel’s own civilian population into the territory it occupies to limiting the access of Palestinians to some of their own lands, the ruler of the occupied territories is using its powers to advance the interests of the occupying power over the rights of the occupied people.

… when judges are beholden to laws“: To begin with, many of Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) rulings, over the years, backed actions by the military commander that were not beholden to international law. Some examples include house demolitions, deportations, allowing the building of settlements and the route of the separation barrier within the occupied territories. Further, the legal system in the occupied territories is separate and discriminatory at its core; the occupied Palestinians are subject to military law, while the Israeli settlers living in the occupied territories are subject to a different legal system – to Israel’s civilian courts. Further compounding this lawless reality is the lack of accountability of Israeli security forces, the lack of enforcement in the many cases of settler violence, and the fact that the government itself ignores some decisions of Israel’s own HCJ. In the occupied territories, the “law” itself is a core aspect of how an indefensibly unjust system perpetuates itself.

“… when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule”: if anything, the prolonged occupation – now in its fifth decade – demonstrates how human rights can be crushed as the ruler prevents protests and limits other forms of freedom of speech, when the ruler breaches limits on its powers, when judges do not enforce the law – and when the law itself is unjust.

Is this a result of “tribal loyalties” – of the continued preference of one group of people over another? Should the reality in the occupied territories be recognized, in Netanyahu’s words, as “mob rule“?  Or will we, Israelis, finally make a real demand at this historic moment in the Middle East that Netanyahu’s words of “the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity” include all who presently live under our government’s rule?

Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel