May 8, 2012

EDITOR: The rule of law in Israel has never been weaker than now

With Israeli government refusing to follow its own Supreme Court rulings on the Migron and Ulpana Hill settlements, a new low has been reached in Israel. A year after the famous vacuous Tent Protest has exploded all over Israel, promising ‘a new democracy’ and more equal society, and avoiding totally any mention of the occupation, this new trough of Israeli political life is something to behold. Within a year, Netanyahu is the most popular politician in Israel, starting a new coalition government with Shaul Mofaz, who only two weeks ago, as he was making promises before being elected the Kadima party leader, has undertaken to continue as Opposition leader, and not to enter a coalition with Netanyahu. This victory of the lie and the criminal deed over law and democracy is emblematic, a sign of the deep and doomed state of the Israeli polis. It befits Netanyahu to preside over this final collapse of law, order and propriety. It is exactly where success for Netanyahu marks the total failure of Israeli political life, ina government which acts illegally, even in the face of its own legal system, not just the international law.

In surprise move, Netanyahu, Mofaz agree to form unity government, cancel early elections: Haaretz

PM, opposition leader reach dramatic late-night agreement to form national unity government, in which Kadima head Mofaz expected to be appointed deputy prime minister.
By Jonathan Lis     and Ophir Bar-Zohar
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) reached a surprise agreement early Tuesday morning to form a national unity government.

Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Shaul Mofaz. Photo by: Tomer Appelbaum

The move came as the Knesset was preparing to disperse for early elections, which were expected to be scheduled for September 4.

Under the agreement, Kadima will join Netanyahu’s government and commit to supporting its policies through the end of its term in late 2013. Mofaz is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister, as well as minister without portfolio.

Mofaz will also serve as a member of the security cabinet, and Kadima members will serve as chairmen of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committees, the economics committee, and any others that are agreed upon by both sides.

Chairwoman of the Israel Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich, will become opposition leader instead of Mofaz. The process is also likely to affect Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid – it will have to wait another year and a half for elections to the 19th Knesset.

In exchange, Netanyahu’s government will support Kadima’s proposal to replace the Tal Law, which enables ultra-Orthodox youth to defer national service.

The sides also agreed on instituting changes to Israel’s electoral system.

PM Netanyahu arriving at a Likud faction meeting on Monday night. Photo by: Olivier Fitoussi

Yair Lapid responded to the move on Tuesday morning on his Facebook page. He described the formation of the unity government as “the old kind of politics” and “corrupt and ugly.”

“It is time to remove it from our lives,” he wrote, adding, “This is politics of chairs instead of principles… of the interests of the group instead of the whole nation. They think that now they will continue for some time, and that we will forget, but they are mistaken. This disgusting political alliance will bury all those involved.”

Shelly Yacimovich criticized the move, and calling it an alliance of cowards, and the most ridiculous zig-zag in Israel’s political history. She also said that the move represented an opportunity for the Israel Labor Party to lead the opposition.

Meretz head Zahava Gal-On expressed outrage over the surprise move, calling it a “mega-stinking maneuver by a prime minister who wants to avoid elections and a desperate opposition chairman facing a crash.”

“This is a disgrace to the Israeli parliament and a terrible message to the public, which is losing faith in the leadership of the state,” she added.

Shaul Mofaz was elected head of Kadima less than two weeks ago, when he defeated former party head Tzipi Livni in the party’s leadership primary.

In an interview with Haaretz ahead of the primary, Mofaz insisted that, if elected, he would not join a government led by Netanyahu.

“Kadima under my leadership will remain in the opposition. The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel, I believe. Why should we join it?” he said at the time.

Ulpana illegal outpost must be gone by July, Israeli government is warned: Guardian

Judges reject coalition’s plea for delay and set new deadline for demolition of unauthorised buildings on Palestinian land
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

Israeli flags fly over Ulpana. Photograph: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The Israeli government has been given a fresh deadline for the controversial demolition of a Jewish outpost built on private Palestinian land after the supreme court rejected its request to renege on an earlier commitment.

In a ruling that will be vehemently opposed by pro-settler parties and factions, the court said five apartment buildings in Ulpana, on the edge of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank, must be evacuated and demolished by 1 July.

The government had agreed to a 1 May deadline, a year after the court declared the buildings to be illegal under Israeli law. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

But faced with stiff resistance from within the coalition, the government requested a delay to allow it to reconsider its policy on how to deal with illegal outposts in the West Bank. The issue had significant consequences involving “diplomatic, public and operational considerations,” the government petition said.

The court rejected the argument, saying it was important for the state to honour its commitments, and that revisiting the issue “may lead to difficult consequences”.

On Sunday, when hearing the petition, the judges were highly critical of the government’s stance. “When the state says it will do something, it never enters our heads that the thing won’t get done,” said one. Another said: “Exceptional requests are becoming the norm. That isn’t healthy, from either a legal or public standpoint.”

Michael Sfard, the lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners, said in response to the ruling: “The moment the state submitted its unprecedented request, this case became a broader struggle than that of the [Palestinian] petitioners alone, and became a struggle to preserve the basic norms of a regime based on the rule of law.”

But an Ulpana resident, Harel Cohen, said he was confident the buildings would not be razed. “This crazy plan to uproot a very nice neighbourhood is not reasonable and cannot be done,” he said. “We are speaking to the prime minister and the government, and we know they will find a way out.”

The scheduled demolitions of Ulpana and Migron – another outpost built on private land, which is due to be demolished by 1 August after a series of delays – are seen as a test of the government’s readiness to comply with Israeli law in the face of pressure from pro-settler groups, whose influence on government policy is growing.

Critics say they are also an indication of the likely scale of resistance to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on borders that would require the removal of tens of thousands of settlers from the land of a future Palestinian state.

The government recently retrospectively authorised three other illegal outposts in a move that was sharply criticised by the US, UK, French, German, Danish and Jordanian governments, the European Union, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority. There are about 100 unauthorised developments in the West Bank.

About 350,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts, and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem. The issue of settlements is seen by the Palestinians and the international community as the main impediment to a peace agreement.

Rejecting state request, High Court orders demolition of West Bank outpost to go forward: Haaretz

Justices criticize government for wishing to reopen closed cases over changed policy, adding that the state had not provided the kind of extraordinary circumstances that would force revisiting a court verdict.
By Tomer Zarchin
Rejecting a state appeal, the High Court of Justice ordered on Monday the demolition of illegally-built structures in the Ulpana neighborhood.

The Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El. Photo by: Emil Salman

The ruling came after state appealed to the High Court on Friday, requesting it reconsider its ruling to evacuate the Ulpana neighborhood, part of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, and tear down the structures there, which were built on private Palestinian land.

That day, the state cited the difficult ramifications an evacuation is likely to have for Beit El residents.

On Sunday, during a hearing regarding the state’s request, the court criticized Israel for not fulfilling its legal commitment to demolish the outpost. Justice Uzi Fogelman said that “when the state claims it will do something, we do not imagine that it will not be done. There is respect between the branches.”

In the ruling issued Monday, Supreme Court President Ahser Grunis along with Fogelman and Justice Salim Joubran rejected the state’s request, saying the illegal Ulpana structures would have to be evacuated by July 1.

The justices wrote that it was especially important for the state to honor its obligations to the High Court, adding that, by “accepting the state’s position, according to which the need to revisit policy is a reason to reopen a finalized process, my lead to difficult consequences.”

“Policy, in its very nature, isn’t a static thing. Will the state request to review processes that ended in a verdict every time a policy is reconsidered!?” the court asked, adding that a change in policy was not a reason to divert from the finality of a verdict,” the justices added.

The justices went on to say that the “authority to reopen a finalized legal procedure, assuming that it exists, is reserved for unusual situations and extraordinary circumstances.”

“Those circumstances have not been presented in this case, even if it does raise difficult question of public and social policy,” they added.

The state had previously pledged in court to implement the demolition orders for the neighborhood buildings, but last month it asked for 90 days to reevaluate its policy on enforcing demolition orders for illegal buildings in the West Bank, as it takes into account strategic, public and operative considerations together.

According to legal experts, the government’s request represents a problematic move – breaking the accepted rules for the relationship between the executive and judicial branches – that would put the country in a difficult position.

High Court may have ruled against West Bank outpost, but the story isn’t over: Haaretz

While it looks like the High Court was defending the rule of law, woe unto a generation that needs the High Court to tell the government that it’s meant to obey its rulings.
By Aeyal Gross
In the printed version of Monday’s High Court of Justice decision reiterating the order to vacate Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood, there’s something interesting about the punctuation: Two sentences end with both a question mark and an exclamation point, something rare, if not unprecedented, in a court document.

“Does the state, every time a new policy is considered, plan to ask the court to reopen proceedings that have ended in a ruling?!” wrote court President Justice Asher Dan Grunis, who also wondered, “What … would be the reason for providing the exceptional remedy of reopening a legal proceeding .. in which the state has committed to act in a certain fashion?!”

On the one hand, one must welcome the court’s decision to reject the request to reopen the hearing on Ulpana Hill, which reinforces not only the finality of court decisions but reinforces the basic principle of carrying them out.

On the other hand, if in the case of Migron, the fact that there had to be a petition to the High Court to enforce a previous court ruling demonstrated the degree to which the occupation tramples on equal rights and the rule of law, in the Ulpana case there’s been an even further slide down the slippery slope.

Here the High Court had to deal with a specific request from the state not to obey a ruling it received.

So while it looks like the High Court was defending the rule of law, woe unto a generation that needs the High Court to tell the government that it’s meant to obey its rulings. No wonder the High Court had to append exclamation points to its question marks.

But the biggest question mark of all still remains: Will the structures built on private Palestinian land near Beit El be demolished by July 1, the date the court set? Migron, don’t forget, is meant to be dismantled by August 1.

This means that on the eve of general elections, the government is going to have to twice demolish buildings and evacuate settlers from private Palestinian land. If the government would prefer not to obey these rulings for political reasons, there are three possible scenarios.

The first could be a horrific one, in which despite the High Court’s unequivocal rulings the government simply doesn’t implement them, in what would be a total trampling of the rule of law. A second possibility is that the government would seek more extensions from the High Court, though based on its recent rulings it isn’t likely the court will agree.

The third scenario is that in an effort to codify the theft, various elements will try to pass “High Court bypass” laws that would retroactively legalize those outposts built on private Palestinian land. In such an instance, the High Court would once again be called upon to decide if such laws are constitutional, or if they contravene the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.

At issue is not just the rule of law in its formal sense, which was at least defended this time, but also the substance of the rule of law, which continues to be crushed.

It’s clear that the violations of law in these cases and the efforts to avoid carrying out the court rulings stems from the fact that these lands belong to Palestinians, and in this context, as in many others, the government relates to Palestinian rights as negatable.

One must recall that the rulings on Migron and Ulpana Hill represent the tip of the iceberg of government land grabs in the territories. The Spiegel Report, which was prepared based on Civil Administration data and revealed by Haaretz three years ago, found that in more than 30 settlements there had been extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Let’s not delude ourselves that the cases that have reached the High Court of Justice will solve the deeper, much more serious problem.

EDITOR: Jews support right-wing candidates in both London and Paris

Though not a surprise, it is still depressing that Jews in both countries have consistently given their vote to the right wing, and have argued against progressive politics. In the report below, the CRIF head is sounding much like Marine Le Pen, and in London, the Jewish community has voted against Ken Livingstone, and supplied Boris Johnson with just that edge he needed to win. A shameful record.

By sharing the anti-Moslem, anti-immigrant agenda with Le Pen and Sarkozy, Jews in France are proving they have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.

French Jewry Leader: Hollande Victory a Boost to Anti-Israel Front: Jewish Press

By:     Jacob Edelist
Following his victory Sunday, the 57-year-old François Hollande shouted himself hoarse, as he had done so often during the campaign, thanking his supporters for electing him president and promising to unite the whole country. “On this May 6, the French have just chosen change in bearing me to the office of president,” he declared before a wildly cheering crowd in his hometown of Tulle, in the rural Correze region.

Richard Prasquier, President of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), the umbrella group of Jewish-French organizations, expressed concerns that one of the changes the Hollande presidency brings is a boost to the anti-Israel left.

Left-wing candidate Hollande has defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday’s runoff election, becoming the first Socialist to win a French presidential election since François Mitterrand in 1988.

Tens of thousands of people descended on the Place de la Bastille in Paris Sunday night, to celebrate the Socialist candidate’s victory.

Hollande has promised bigger government spending and a 75% income tax on the rich. He also wants to renegotiate a European treaty on budget cuts, to avoid any more Greek style debt crises.

In his victory speech at the Bastille Hollande vowed to move away from the “fatalist” concept that austerity was the only way to solve the debt crisis. He offered instead increased productivity as the direction for France’s economy.

France’s Interior Ministry said the left-wing candidate had claimed around 51.7% of the runoff vote to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy’s 48.3%, with turnout at 81%. Sarkozy, the center-right candidate, was considered the favored candidate among French Jews.

Sarkozy conceded, saying, “Francois Hollande is the president of the republic; he must be respected.”

Sarkozy is the ninth European leader to be ousted since the start of the continent’s debt crisis.

Speaking to reporters Monday  before a meeting at the French Consulate in New York, CRIF President Prasquier said, “We know that some of the parties who are supposed to be partners of the coalition in favor of François Hollande are not friends of Israel. The part they will play we will see.”

Hollande won the backing of centrist François Bayrou, who took nine percent in the first round, and Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front, who took 11 percent.

But Prasquier also said that both Hollande and Sarkozy are friends of Israel and share the same views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But, he added, Hollande is untested when it comes to Iran, and there are closer ties between the Socialist Party and the anti-Israel far left than there are between Sarkozy’s party and the xenophobic far right represented by Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The problem, Prasquier said, is not with Hollande or the people close to him, but with the adamantly anti-Israel parties that are supporting him.

“I do not expect the far left would be given the position of foreign minister,” he said, “but if they have more visibility there might be an increase in demonstrations against Israel in the public society — BDS and so on — and we will have to face them. But we will have to face the demonstrations, not the government.”

Prasquier said he was not happy about the strong showing by Le Pen, but he does not believe that her support is comprised wholly of anti-Semites. Rather, he said, “the new category of Jew-bashing comes from those who present themselves as being anti-Zionists” – namely, the far left.

“Those people who stigmatize, who vilify on the very precise and unique way the State of Israel instead of stigmatizing the other countries,” he said, are showing “behavior very similar to the behavior used in the past to pinpoint Jews as responsible for everything.”

Prasquier said he does not believe France is an anti-Semitic country. He said the way to prevent attacks like the shooting in March at the Jewish school in Toulouse is to increase security.

“I do not see any possibility of preventing another action of this kind without increasing the level of security,” Prasquier said. “It’s not a question of reaching out. We are trying to reach out as much as possible to the Muslim community. We should not mix up the Muslim community with the awful deeds of this murderer.”

Hollande will be sworn in on May 15. The French parliamentary election will be held over two rounds on June 10 and June 17.

Israeli court rejects Palestinian hunger strike prisoners’ appeal: Guardian

Two men jailed without charge and on hunger strike for 70 days can not be freed because of security risk, supreme court rules
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah burn Israeli flags during a rally for prisoners on hunger strike. Photograph: Majdi Mohammed/AP

Two Palestinian prisoners who are on their 70th day of hunger strike had their appeals against imprisonment without charge or trial rejected by Israel’s supreme court on Monday.

Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha’er Halahleh, 33, are both at risk of death, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Diab has been moved to a civilian hospital in Israel.

Another 10 hunger strikers have been transferred to prison hospitals. Groups representing Palestinian prisoners say about 2,000 have joined the protest since mid-April. The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) puts the figure at 1,600.

PHR said the court ruling was the “effective equivalent of handing down a death sentence” to the two men.

“We are shocked at the court’s rejection [of the appeal] because it specifically said their interrogation was negligent but failed to draw the conclusion,” said Hadas Ziv. “The court is afraid of setting a precedent, and this fear influenced its ruling.”

The court ruled that the two men could not be released because they were a security risk, but added that the Israeli authorities should consider releasing them on medical grounds.

PHR says the prison service is obstructing the mens’ access to independent doctors. It says the longest any hunger striker has survived without food or supplements is 75 days.

The protest is being driven by Israel’s use of “administrative detention”, under which around 320 Palestinians are in prison without any charges being laid. Israel says that disclosing accusations or evidence in these cases could endanger its security.

Halahleh has been held for 22 months without charge, and Diab for nine months.

Other issues raised by prisoners are the use of solitary confinement, restrictions on family visits, and the treatment of sick detainees. The IPS says it has isolated hunger strikers from other prisoners and withdrawn privileges such as family visits.

Daily demonstrations in support of the hunger strikers outside the main military prison near Jerusalem have been met with teargas and arrests. Protests and sympathy hunger strikes have been staged in Gaza.

An Islamic Jihad official, Mohammad al-Hindi, warned that the death of a hunger striker would spark a third intifada. The “battle of the empty stomachs” had united rival Palestinian factions, he said.

The issue of prisoners is highly resonant with Palestinian families. An estimated 40% of Palestinian men have been detained by Israel.

Another bleak chapter in the history of Israeli democracy: Haaretz Editorial

While in the Migron affair the state asked merely for a delay in carrying out the ruling, this time it asked for a revocation of the ruling and a relaunching of court proceedings.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wrote another bleak chapter in the history of Israeli democracy yesterday. The High Court of Justice denied the state’s request to reopen the hearing on demolishing the houses in Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood. It gave the state 60 days to dismantle these buildings in the West Bank settlement. The government had requested this move to let it update its outpost policy.

“Every time a policy is reexamined, will the state ask that we open a hearing that has already been ruled on?” High Court President Asher Grunis wondered aloud on Sunday. His answer: “A policy change is not sufficient grounds for reopening finalized proceedings.”

The justices’ comments should echo in every Israeli home. In a country that respects the rule of law and the court’s rulings, High Court justices don’t have to remind top law-enforcement officials that it is inconceivable to disrespect the country’s top court.

As Justice Uzi Vogelman pointed out, reopening a hearing on a petition the High Court has already ruled on due to a government policy change is unprecedented. Justice Salim Joubran expressed his frustration with the state’s turning such extraordinary requests into a matter of routine. He warned of the legal implications. Indeed, the Ulpana affair came up a few weeks after the High Court had rebuked the state in the harshest terms over its request for a three and a half year delay in evacuating the Migron outpost.

While in the Migron affair the state asked merely for a delay in carrying out the ruling, this time it asked for a revocation of the ruling and a relaunching of court proceedings. The request was based on the warped argument that the ruling was incompatible with the state’s policy. There is no need to guess how the state would respond to an individual’s or a company’s request that the court relaunch proceedings on a ruling it had already issued, just so the individual or company could reshape policy.

Action alert: STW office raided by Israeli military: STW

At 1.30am this morning ten armoured jeeps of the Israeli occupation forces and intelligence surrounded and raided the offices of Stop the Wall in Ramallah. Israeli military stole 2 laptops, 3 hard drives and 10 memory cards containing files and photos as well as archive material relating to the work that the organisation does in opposition to Israel’s apartheid wall and the attack on Palestinian human rights that the wall and the settlement represent. This is a renewed attack upon Palestinian civil society and their struggle against the physical and psychological oppression, land confiscation and ethnic cleansing policies of the Israel.

It is no coincidence that the Israeli authorities have chosen this moment to escalate their repression against the Stop the Wall grassroots network of civil resistance against the Wall and the settlements, choosing to act on the same day that the Israeli High Court rejected the appeals of Palestinian hunger strikers Bilal Diab and Tha’’ir Halahleh, imprisoned without charge and without trial, effectively condemning them to death. Israel is fearing popular resistance and at the same time prepares for confrontation and more repression, clearly showing that it is not ready to relinquish any of the international sanctioned rights the Palestinian people are struggling for.

This is a stark reminder of the 2010 office raid and the 2009/10 wave of  arrests of Stop the Wall staff and grassroots leaders. At that time we could count on the solidarity of all our supporters across the globe. Thanks to the steadfastness of Stop the Wall activists and your support internationally, we have been able to staff off the attack and emerge stronger than before.

We once again call upon you to support us by:

Spreading the news and publicly express your support to Stop the Wall and our work in the media available to you (and please let us know you did so!)
Encouraging your representatives and governments to condemn and report this further repression of civil resistance and human rights defenders organizations.
Let Israel know that their walls cannot isolate anybody!

For photos see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stopthewall/sets/72157629631856082/

Background:

Stop the Wall is one of the most vibrant organizations of human rights defenders in Palestine, and has been promoting, for almost ten years, civil resistance and advocacy campaigns against the Wall and in defense of Palestinian rights to self determination. Human Rights Defenders are internationally recognized as an essential element in political processes and their repression further underlines Israeli unwillingness to achieve a just peace.

This raid on the Stop the Wall offices is a clear message that the Israeli authorities are fearing widespread nonviolent action will challenge their policies effectively.

The courageous steadfastness of the more than 2000 hunger strikers in Israeli jails is underlining once more the power of civil resistance as part of the Palestinian struggle. Almost daily people are out in the streets to protest in solidarity with the Palestinian political prisoners, and the discontent with the fruitless and completely stalled diplomatic processes is growing stronger. At the same time, the Israeli authorities announced in 2011 to UN agencies that throughout 2012 year they will systematically displace the Palestinian population in area C. While the displacement drive is underway in the Jordan Valley, home demolitions are rising and the settlement construction is accelerated, the people across the West Bank are always more constraint behind the cantons of the wall. Israel is preparing for confrontation and more repression, clearly showing that it is not ready to relinquish any of the international sanctioned rights the Palestinian people are struggling for.

This is not the first time Stop the Wall has been the target of Israeli repression. In September 2009 Stop the Wall youth coordinator was arrested and the Stop the Wall coordinator, Jamal Juma’, was arrested a few months later, in December 2009. The Israeli authorities were not able to formulate any accusations against either of them and after a sustained international campaign, that saw the active involvement of the diplomatic missions in Palestine and European foreign ministries as well as countless human rights organizations around the world, both had to be freed in January 2010. This attack was followed only a few months later by an extensive office raid by the Israeli military on February 8 2010 and mass arrests of grassroots human rights defenders in the villages most actively protesting against the Wall.

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