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Israel’s most repressive law is about to get worse

Using the Emergency Regulations to outlaw Palestinian political movements is a preview of what’s coming.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about the wave of violence across Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, October 8, 2015. Sitting with him are (from left to right): IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisencot, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Acting Police Commissioner Benzi Sau. (GPO/Amos Ben-Gershom)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about the wave of violence across Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, October 8, 2015. Sitting with him are (from left to right): IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisencot, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Acting Police Commissioner Benzi Sau. (GPO/Amos Ben-Gershom)

In June 1951, member of Knesset and future prime minister Menachem Begin participated in a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitutional, Law, and Justice Committee on whether Israel should adopt administrative detentions as a legitimate security practice. During the discussions, Begin gave a scathing criticism of the Emergency Regulations of 1945, the British law that permitted detentions without charges or trial during its colonial administration of Mandate Palestine:

If we accept the Committee members’ definition of ‘emergency,’ then in all honesty, we would have to admit that it applies in the State of Israel…forever … You are saying that we must reconcile ourselves — with all that ‘emergency’ ostensibly implies — to the long-term presence of tyrannical, fascistic laws. — Menachem Begin, June 11, 1951 (Source: Israel Democracy Institute)

Despite Begin’s criticisms in the forum, the Knesset decided to keep the Emergency Regulations as a part of Israel’s legal system, under the pretext that the newly-formed country was still in a state of war and should therefore hold on to the extensive security powers that the law provided.

As Begin predicted, the law was routinely used for non-security purposes, though perhaps not as he had conceived. During Israel’s formative years, the law was one of the key mechanisms that allowed the state to impose military rule on its Palestinian citizens until 1966; seize Palestinian lands and properties under the guise of “military necessity;” and prevent Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons from returning to the homes they lost during the 1948 war. After the beginning of the 1967 occupation, Israel expanded the Emergency Regulations into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, making it the legal basis for the military rule we see today. Israel’s Supreme Court, far from questioning the law’s existence, continually upheld its legitimacy and the military occupation that derived from it.

Menachem Begin speaking in the Knesset (Photo from Government Press Office-Wikimedia Commons).

Menachem Begin speaking in the Knesset (Photo from Government Press Office-Wikimedia Commons).

Begin, though renowned as a hawk and a nationalist, had both personal and political reasons for opposing the Emergency Regulations. During the British Mandate in Palestine, the law granted Britain extensive military powers as a means to suppress local Arab resistance and Zionist insurgents fighting against foreign rule. Begin and his underground militia, the Irgun, were among the primary targets of the ensuing crackdown. Having experienced the brutal power of the law — and believing it to be a severe threat to the freedoms of Israel’s citizens — Begin asserted that “this law is bad from its very foundation and…does not become good because it is practiced by Jews.”

It seems Begin’s warnings were not only ignored by the Knesset committee in 1951, but also by the leaders of his own Likud party decades later. Two weeks ago, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon invoked the Emergency Regulations to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Rather than conducting transparent investigations, hearings, and collection of evidence as required by various Israeli laws, the government decided to issue an executive order allowing it to immediately close the movement’s affiliated organizations and seize their properties and funds.

Although the outlawing of the Islamic Movement has been a long time coming, the method used by the government was surprising. Israel has not officially banned a Palestinian political party in Israel since Al-Ard in 1964, when Palestinian citizens were still under the military rule made possible by the Emergency Regulations. Since then, Israeli authorities have used other laws and methods to attack Palestinian political parties and movements, such as disqualification motions and criminal indictments, which largely failed after being contested in court. This time the government chose to bypass these civil channels in favor of a military law that offers few avenues for legal redress.

Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, during a large protest and a general strike, in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. Palestinians call for a Day of Rage following restrictions on Al Aqsa and recent violent attacks of both Israelis and Palestinians. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, during a large protest and a general strike, in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

This hasty move is not just a matter of political timing and opportunism, though they are certainly key factors. As my fellow +972 writers have noted, the context of the recent two months of violence and unrests have served as a cover for the government’s action, aiming to associate the Islamic Movement with the Palestinian stabbings and Da’esh’s attacks in Paris, in order to garner support from the Israeli public and sympathy from the international community.

There is, however, another deeper dynamic at play. Since 2009, the right-wing Israeli government has demonstrated an aggressive impatience for watching their policies questioned and challenged by Palestinian citizens and the anti-occupation Jewish Left. This intolerant attitude has been seen in threats by right-wing politicians against the powers of the Supreme Court; their laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens’ rights; their refusal to heed advice of security agencies countering their political agendas; and their delegitimization of left-wing opponents in the Knesset, media, and wider public.

The government’s decision to invoke one of Israel’s most repressive and colonial laws is an outcome of this intolerance. Having failed to expel Palestinian political groups and leaders from the Israeli political sphere for years — including by raising the electoral threshold and inciting against Palestinian representatives of all political stripes — the government is now reverting to authoritarian powers to achieve its objective.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, some holding Palestinian flags, take part in a large protest during a general strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. Palestinians call for a Day of Rage following restrictions on Al Aqsa and recent violent attacks of both Israelis and Palestinians. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, some holding Palestinian flags, take part in a large protest during a general strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. (Activestills.org)

More concerning, however, is that Israel is seeking to use these powers not merely for exceptional circumstances, but as standard procedures. In September of this year, the Knesset passed the first reading of the “anti-terror bill,” a colossal piece of legislation that, in a nutshell, would enshrine further powers and provisions of the Emergency Regulations into the Israeli legal system. Among other things, the bill would effectively grant new authorities to the police that were previously reserved only for the Shin Bet, and which could more easily designate any political, social, or cultural organization as a “terrorist” body based on the state’s political criteria.

The outlawing of the Islamic Movement is a preview of what the anti-terror bill entails. Netanyahu was not speaking in hyperboles when he said last month that Israel was doomed to “forever live by the sword.” That belief is manifested and entrenching itself in Israel’s laws and policies, eroding the rights of citizens in Israel alongside those of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

It therefore seems that the vague definition of “emergency” and the “tyrannical, fascistic laws” that Begin warned about are not only here to stay permanently, but are about to get much worse.

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    1. David

      The sheer irony of this is that I have a pretty good idea of the reactions here if the ban on Kach and Kahane Chai was lifted, and it was referred to as a legitimate political party.

      The northern branch of the Islamic State is being banned because of it’s neverending incitement, persistent violent activities against Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and links with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

      Reply to Comment
      • Daniel

        This time, well said, David.

        We are watching….

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Your “irony” does not undercut Amjad’s argument about the lack of due process and constitutional checks, about the use of authoritarian powers–what Begin called “tyrannical, fascistic laws”–in the pretext of a vaguely defined “emergency”–but in fact used as standard procedure.

        It is demagoguery to equate Kach and Northern Branch. But even if we should accept that facile equation, why hasn’t Netanyahu banned Lehava? “We do not distinguish between forms of incitement,” he says. But he plainly does.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          BEN says:

          “Your “irony” does not undercut Amjad’s argument about the lack of due process and constitutional checks, about the use of authoritarian power…”

          My good friend, BEN, what does “due process and constitutional checks” mean and how are those lacking in Israel? Does my good friend BEN actually know what he is talking about, or, is he mere parroting the opinion of Amjad Iraqi which BEN does not understand? Doth my good friend BEN not have his OWN mind and is he not capable of thinking for himself based on facts that are readily available about the excellent criminal justice system in Israel?

          Is my good friend BEN able to answer any of the above questions – as eloquently as possible and without metamorphosing into one of his aliases such as “Israel”, etc?

          Reply to Comment
        • David

          Demagoguery to equate the northern branch of the Islamic Movement to Kach? I don’t think so. The northern branch doesn’t just incite (and it’s incitement is far, far worse than Lehava’s), it actively engages in violent harassment of Jews on the Temple Mount, and has ties with terrorist organizations dedicated to destroying Israel and ethnically cleansing Jews.

          There also is a constitutional process. The ban will probably be challenged in the Supreme Court, which hopefully will approve it.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            David: Perhaps “demagoguery” was not the best choice of words here (“inaccurate” is a more neutral choice). I am not calling you a demagogue. I called equations with Kach demagogic (and to be clear, you did not actually equate Kach and NBIM, I understand that) because equating them blurs the important distinctions Noam Sheizaf makes in this essay:

            http://972mag.com/the-real-danger-of-outlawing-palestinian-political-movements/113970/
            “…People ask: why should the Israeli establishment permit a movement that denounces its very existence? There are two answers. Firstly, Balad or the Islamic Movement (or any other non-Zionist political party) do not want to annihilate Israel’s citizens — they want to change the legal system in the country, which is a legitimate demand in a democracy. The political right wing intentionally distorts that very important distinction….”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            To say NBIM’s incitement is far, far worse than Lehava’s? What do you mean? Calling for the burning, by the government, of churches and actually burning churches is far, far less bad? And why hasn’t Gopstein been arrested? > >

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11786802/Burning-of-Christian-churches-in-Israel-justified-far-Right-Jewish-leader-says.html

            “He later tried to evade accusations of inciting his followers to fire-raise, saying it was the government’s responsibility to carry out what he presented as a religious teaching of the 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. “Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?” Mr Gopstein told the panel.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That the ban “will probably be challenged in the Supreme Court*” does not negate the problems with use of decades old authoritarian Emergency Regulations and military law that Amjad Iraqi describes above. Nor the deliberate attempts to blur the NBIM with Da’esh on the one hand and with desperate lone teenagers on the other.

            *The Court’s record of rubber stamping the occupation (with judges who actually live in settlements and do not at least recuse themselves, never mind their personally flouting IHL!) and condoning dispossession and population transfer in places such as Um-Al Hiran, Susya, and the Negev/Naqab have substantially discredited it in my opinion. Let’s all stop pretending Israel’s High Court is anything like the United States Supreme Court.

            Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            Ok, BEN, now that you have finished copying and pasting, talking to- and debating with yourself, maybe you can answer my questions above? That question actually requires YOU to THINK, not copy and paste the baseless opinions and anti-Israel propaganda of political pundits.

            THINK, BEN, and produce something from YOUR own mind.

            We are waiting, BEN ……

            Reply to Comment