Essays

Terrorist Rule of Law in Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem — apparently, in retaliation for the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank — was a public call to Israelis to “refrain from taking the law into their own hands.” This message, delivered by the Prime Minister both personally and through his spokesmen, is very revealing.

On a first look, it is nothing but a laconic statement — a sober appeal to the nation in a moment of escalating violence that’s alarming even by Israeli standards.

On a second look, it contains an embarrassing mistake. Kidnapping and murdering an innocent Palestinian teenager has nothing to do with “taking the law into one’s own hands.” It is a criminal terrorist act per se; not a moment in which, say, an injured civilian violates the rule of law by punishing a criminal that the state has failed to punish.

On a third look, and the most accurate of all, Netanyahu’s statement contains no embarrassing mistake; it reveals rather the embarrassing truth. For indeed state terrorism against Palestinians — executed in revenge, retaliation and general intimidation of the occupied Palestinian population — is officially carried out by the Israeli state. It is a form of terrorism that Israelis consider legal.

There are several examples of legal state terrorism in Israel — officially approved by the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice — but the clearest case is the IDF’s practice of house demolitions.

In the last few days, three houses were demolished by the IDF (watch video below): the house of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe, the Hamas activists suspected of kidnapping and murdering the three Israeli teens; and the house of Ziad Awad, a Hamas activist suspected of murdering an Israeli Police officer last spring. Of course, house demolition even of convicted terrorists is contrary to justice, international law and the Geneva convention, for it necessarily aims at punishing civilians who have not been convicted (or even charged) with a crime: the terrorist’s family and close circle. Such demolitions are intended to intimidate the civilian population, to deter them from supporting terrorists and guerilla fighters. Such deterrence by intimidation of a civilian population is, by definition, state terrorism.

What is especially disturbing about terrorist state practices in Israel is the Supreme Court’s relation to them. Indeed the recent demolitions have been officially considered and approved by the Court — similarly to previous demolitions — but the recent ruling is all the more offending because, in this case, Qawasmeh, Abu Eishe and Awad have not even been convicted of a crime. Qawasmeh and Abu Eishe have disappeared, and Hamas — the organization to which they apparently belong — hasn’t taken responsibility for the murder. Awad was captured in the arrest waves immediately following the murder, and was only now charged with a crime.

To the human rights organizations in Israel’s Supreme Court, the Justices replied that the demolitions are in the first place intended not as “punishment” but as “deterrence” of the Palestinian population. In other words, because the IDF isn’t punishing people for crimes they did not commit — but uses them to intimidate Palestinians and deter them from cooperating with terrorists and guerilla fighters — the demolitions are legal. (It is at least worth mentioning here that this is the same Supreme Court over which the celebrated Aharon Barak used to preside: a Court that’s recognized within Israel and internationally as the last “leftist” Israeli resort; the last functioning guard of Israel’s democratic rule of law. Yet, Aharon Barak, too, approved in his day tens if not hundreds of house demolitions of Palestinians.) As of this morning, Haaretz reports that the IDF is now preparing to a massive demolition operation, in which tens of Palestinian houses are supposed to come down.

This puts Netanyahu’s statement from yesterday in the right context. There is a rule of law in Israel, but it is a terrorist rule of law. It is the right of the state and the state only to exercise terrorism against the Palestinian population. Israeli civilians should leave terrorist activity to the IDF, the Israel Police, and the other official security brunches: they ought not take the law into their own hands.

Also for you:

Omri Boehm

  • joelsk44039

    Interesting how you’ve got this exactly backwards. Shooting missiles across the border from Gaza into population areas of Israel is terrorism. Kidnapping and murdering 3 teenagers is terrorism. Suicide bombings are terrorism.

    Israel defending itself is self defense.

    • But if the murder of an innocent Palestinian teenager by a group of Jewish Israelis is an instance of “taking law into their own hands,” and it is recognized that killing an innocent under such circumstances is terrorism, it follows that the rule of law in Israel is the rule of state terrorism. That is the tough but telling observation of Boehm. Why would it be that the murder of 3 young Israelis is terrorism, but the murder of a Palestinian is not?

  • BChalland

    Excellent analysis by Omri Boehm. Another controversial ‘legal’ practice by the state of of Israel is the use of torture (dubbed ‘moderate physical pressure’ and OK’ed by the highest judiciary authority).

    • Omri Boehm

      yes. thanks, b. do you know leibowitch famous interview about this? i had exactly that ‘moderate physical pressure’ in mind as another example. the leibowitch interview is a classic — where he coined the term ‘judo-nazis’. http://youtu.be/zM2fXTkjU2E

  • Chiara Bottici

    very interesting analysis. the three layers look at Netanyahu’s statment is particularly illuminating. I wonder what are the psychological implications of destroying somebody’s house (as opposed to an individual body) and of the state itself vindicating the right to do so.

  • grungewort

    This was insightful and helpful, thank you. I’m looking forward to reading more from Boehm – translations like the recent post – and otherwise.

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