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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

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    1. directrob

      This was almost a computer generated speech. Almost every sentence comes straight from the hasbara manual. Like the manual orders he used about 50 times the word peace attacked Hamas, Iran and the Militant Islam and spared the PA but stressed there is no partner for peace…
      His far reaching offer:
      Jordan valley => Long term Israeli
      Jerusalem => Israeli
      Neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv => Israeli
      Refugees => Palestinian state
      Places of critical strategic and national importance =>Israeli
      Solid security arrangements on the ground
      fully demilitarized
      Netanyahu is offering nothing more than three enclaves (Jericho, North enclave, South enclave) at the mercy of Israel. Gaza is seen as another country.

      Reply to Comment
    2. abban aziz


      And what’s wrong with that? You think Israel is going to hand over Jerusalem – a city it has ruled for 45 years to an infant government that can’t manage its own cheque book?

      Arabs in Jerusalem don’t want to live in a Palestinian state, so why should the capital be divided?

      As far as refugees go, it is a deal-killer to claim decedents of so-called refugees have right to access a country they were never born in.

      Solid security agreements on the ground make perfect sense. Do you remember the hundreds of suicide bombings? Daily terrorist acts?

      All the wars Israel has fought occurred under labor governments engaged in the process. Since Netanyahu took over, there is peace. Palestinian economy is up. Violence is down. Whatever agreement the Palestinians sign they won’t be able to honor it.

      It seems the Left is incapable of evaluating the Palestinians. They whine about Israel but say nothing of the Palestinian position. Because the Palestinian position is unreasonable. So why try and defend it? Notice the Palestinians didn’t defend any of their demands, they simply rejected Netanyahu. Surprise. Rejection. That’s all Islamic states do.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Isreal

      Division of Jerusalem means DESTRUCTION of Jerusalem. No one knows this better than the Arabs of the city which is why they prefer to live under Israeli rule even if they don’t like it.
      Netanyahu was alluding to the fact that if the city should be divided, the first to suffer will be the Christian churches in the city. They would be subject to the same harrassment Christians face all over the Middle East (e.g. Copts in Egypt, terrorized flight of Christians from Iraq, etc)

      Reply to Comment
    4. richard Allen

      “As far as refugees go, it is a deal-killer to claim decedents of so-called refugees have right to access a country they were never born in.”
      So, Abban Aziz, you’re claiming that people born elsewhere with only a tangential connection to the land have no true claim to the land? I think you just nullified Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ex Israeli

      The real problem will not go away. Sooner or later the world will have to confront “Zionism”.
      This is a most obvious thing, even to crazy zionists themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    6. abban aziz

      .So, Abban Aziz, you’re claiming that people born elsewhere with only a tangential connection to the land have no true claim to the land? I think you just nullified Zionism.”

      No, I’m saying non-citizens who have lived in sovereign nations (Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon) for 60 years don’t have a right to access a nation they were never born in. This doesn’t “nullify” Zionism.

      The “right of return” is neither supported by international law (the left loves to cite the law when it helps them, ignores it when it doesn’t) or any historical precedent.

      Zionism = Jewish rights. Ireland, Scotland, Russia, and Spain all have their own emigration policies that allow non-citizens who can prove ancestry access to citizenship.

      In fact, about 20% of Israel’s population qualifies for citizenship in the European Union.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Danny

      I have a sneaking suspicion that in his heart, Obama fully supports Abbas’ and Fayad’s U.N. strategy come September, but cannot openly support. As an Israeli Jew, I whole-heartedly support Abbas and Fayad’s noble efforts to bring about a Palestinian state – to be kicked off this coming September – with the brutal and criminal Israeli occupation regime doing everything in its considerable power to nip this effort in the bud. But I think this time they are going to fail, and miserably. And contrary to what Obama said (but doesn’t believe in), this effort will bear great fruit for the Palestinians as it will give them considerable power in the U.N. to make life very hard for Israel, and possibly bring about sanctions upon it. Obama will officially get on the bandwagon after 2012.

      Reply to Comment