Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio Op-Ed, December 3, 1999
NON-VIOLENT CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
By Moti Karpel
Editor's Note: This article, which was written several weeks ago, has taken on added significance in light of the events in Seattle.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
With the onset of the era of the final withdrawals, the last phase of Israeli national self-destruction has begun. We are in for further, more drastic withdrawals - that is, if we do not find a way to stop them. Make no mistake about it: should we choose not to engage in an authentic struggle against current Israeli policy, residents of both the Golan Heights and Yesha - the latter will be transferred to "settlement blocs" - better start packing their bags. All of us by now should realize that the dismantling of Yesha outposts several weeks ago was just the beginning. Should we, the Jewish people, choose to remain apathetic, nothing will stand in the way of what appears to be the imminent suicide of the Zionist state.
For someone unsatisfied with the lip-service of symbolic objections, but who, on the other hand, understands that violence would seriously harm the no-less important - and apparently more important - value of 'unity of the Jewish people,' there is only one option: A widespread popular struggle, grounded in the principle of non-violent civil disobedience. Under the circumstances, only such a struggle can bring the desired results.
Non-violent civil disobedience can take on a variety of forms: settlement activity in violation of government policy; the re-establishment of dismantled settlements; tax rebellion; blocking intersections; refusal to adhere to army orders; conscientious objection to military draft, etc. The common denominator of all these is the complete negation of the use of violence, the refusal to follow orders perceived as illegal or immoral, and the willingness to pay the price in the form of arrest and even imprisonment.
AT THE FOUNDATIONS OF DEMOCRACY
We should begin our efforts with the confidence that the principle of non-violent civil disobedience lies at the very foundation of western democratic tradition. Some years ago, our country's political left invested enormous amounts of energy in an effort to articulate this point, publishing volumes such as "On Democracy and Obedience" and "The Limits of Obedience." Among those defending the citizen's right to engage in civil disobedience were former Supreme Court Justice Chaim Cohen, Professor Asa Kasher, who penned what became known as the "IDF Code of Ethics," and others. Even far-left Meretz chief Yossi Sarid made his opinion known, and in a June, 1990 article in Yediot Acharonot - headlined "This is the Red Line" - he wrote: "The day on which the transfer order [of Palestinians from their homes in Judea and Samaria] is given - a patently illegal order - will be the day of refusal to carry out these orders."
But we need look no look further than the Torah giant, Maimonides, for our moral guidance. "It is obvious that if a King issues a ruling to negate a particular mitzvah [commandment]," writes the Rambam in his epic work Mishneh Torah, Kings 3, 9, "that we may not adhere to his command."
Despite its supposed ideological commitment to the right of non-violent civil disobedience, the political left has, for years now, been seeking to delegitimize such behavior - for the simple reason that the left fears the effective use of such an approach by believing Jews identified with the national political camp. For the Israeli left, virtually any statement rooted in classical Jewish sources is termed "incitement", while every op-ed piece in the right-wing press is "a call to murder." Such accusations are inevitably followed by calls upon the Attorney-General to "open a criminal investigation" against the source of the politically-incorrect statement. The media, the State Attorney's office, and the police join forces to squelch any manifestation of freedom of speech.
FROM OUR EXPERIENCE
Even when a successful program of non-violent civil disobedience finally gets off the ground, it is quickly stifled by "the strong arm of the law." A classic example of this is the "Zo Artzeinu" struggle of the mid-
1990's. The campaign, in which the demonstrators did not employ even a shred of violence, was crushed through one method only: police brutality. The police violence benefited from the full, uncritical support of our media. The current Nimrodi saga has provided us with a superb lesson in the workings of the coordinated agendas of our police, and that watchdog of Israeli democracy - the media.
Sadly, the extensive campaign aimed at brainwashing Israelis to believe that non-violent civil disobedience is not legitimate has been quite effective. Even many 'Jews of faith' now view such behavior to be improper from both a Jewish and a democratic perspective. Some of us have even become convinced that it was Zo Artzeinu, and not the police department, that employed the violence. The quest for "political correctness" and a tendency to bleeding-heartedness have no doubt contributed to this phenomenon. In addition, the urge to manifest the proper expression of "allegiance to the State" - an important concept, but not relevant here - has also made its mark.
It is impossible to silence the principled position that sees in the destruction of Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael and the expulsion of their residents as an illegal and immoral act. No nationally-aware Jew can remain silent in the face of this, or even 'fulfill his obligation' with a mere vocal protest. Alas, what is most tragic - and even foolish - about the cycle of delegitimization of such protests is the results that this approach is bound to produce. A society that does not encourage, or at the very least permit, a supervised, legitimate and expression of political and moral positions, a society that uses various means to silence divergent views on the fate of the country, is one that effectively invites the outbreak of such an unhealthy, violent, chaotic expression of these energies.
Whomsoever is concerned about our Israeli democracy and the unity of the Jewish People - let him not challenge the legitimacy of a campaign of civil non-violence.
Moti Karpel is a founder of LeChatchila for Jewish Leadership, and editor of its bi-weekly publication.