After Martin Luther King Day

Reflections on Civil Rights in Israel
Under the Dictatorship of Peace

By Elyakim Ha'etzni

In Tel Aviv, talking to a taxi driver, I fell upon a new experience. At first, the driver, with convincing ease and spontaneity released a collection of well known peace cliches -"give peace a chance" etc. Then, upon hearing my opposing opinion, a sudden turnabout: What the man now said against the government and its policies was so violent, that he left me far behind in the camp of the "moderates". Such a phenomenon has no other explanation but fear. Then I tried in Jerusalem. Here, the driver agreed to say only this: "I have a wife and children, I don't want to know anything, I want only to make a living." The head of a firm specializing in public polls told me that while in the past Israelis used to be very open in their answers, almost too talkative, now they hesitate to speak out in political matters. When polled, some of them even do not give truthful answers. As a consequence results are probably slanted.

The recent, much publicized, success of Labour to register 350,000 members, together with information as to massive pressure brought to bear on the employees in the big work places, also belongs to the same pattern. The late Moshe Sharett, a former FM, also one time PM of Israel, himself a member of the Labour party, had a name for this: "A regime of fear and calculation".

When Jewish fugitives from the Gomulka persecutions reached this country from Poland, most of them communist party hacks, government officials or even agents of the local K.G.B., their first question was - who is the Ruling Party? Then they duly registered. Is the fear, which brings us nearer - not the way we hoped to our new Palestinian allies, justified by actual facts? The answer is a definite - yes ! A few days ago a number of inhabitants from Kiryat Arba, respected citizens all of them, were summoned to the police. They were not accused of anything, "only" asked about their opinions, then "warned" and sent home.

Oslo abolished military rule over all Arabs in Judea-SamariaGaza. From now on, only the Jews in Yesha are subject to the military legislation which imposed a regime of "belligerent occupation" on the population of the former enemy territory. Now, these orders are absurdly applied against the Jewish population, as if it they had been the defeated and occupied enemy of the Six Days War. A citizen is served with an "Administrative Order", putting him under detention for months or confining him to a restricted area, even to the four walls of his home. The order is signed by the commanding general and bears no explanation. Nor will any reason be given to him in the future. Should the victim turn to an Appeals Committee, to the High Court, even then the "evidence" will be shown only to the tribunal, in secrecy. But the judge has no means, no tools whatsoever, to examine and ascertain the authenticity and veracity of this secret information, put on a piece of paper by an unknown agent. Perhaps, it is no more than a false denunciation by a personal enemy, perhaps a mere mistake. More often than not these secret papers don't even allege that the suspect committed any overt act. They merely register, that the man said something. (In what intonation? In reply to what question? Under which circumstances?) And yet, this is enough to deprive a man of his freedom. The French Revolution broke out, inter alia, because of the infamous "Lettres de Cachet", issued by the King, containing exile or detention orders, without need to prove anything.

To round off the syndrom, let us replay on the screens of our memories an unforgettable interview on TV, Channel 2. A huge, round arena, snow-white, totally empty, but for two figures: The interviewer, mandarin-like self-satisfied, leaning back luxuriously mandarin-like, and the Prime Minister. The arena is illuminated by glaring floodlights. In the background there is a constant glint and glimmer of bright stars. The scene is staged, as if taking place in the heaven of heavens. Delicate questions, put by the interviewer in a caressing voice with much awe and reverence give the Prime Minister the invited opportunity to sermonize, with round, ceremonious hand movements, style Pontifex Maximus, something sounding as a gospel ofsalvation rather than a political message. All this is smeared over almost an entire broadcasting evening. The Prime Minister's rhetoric has an aura of conciliation, generosity and magnanimity, one would axpect only from personalities who are in total command of the whole arena. But this particular arena is raised high up on the Olympus of Peace, so there is no escape the feeling of having been introduced unto the presence of the Dictator of Peace. In this movie we have been before, more than once, in this miserable century. And we know, that such films never have a happy ending.

Elyakim Haetzni is a prominent attorney and champion of Jewish rights in Israel. He lives in Kiryat Arba. Access other Elyakim Ha'etzni articles in the Freeman Center section for other Jewish and Israeli sites (at bottom of the Home Page).

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