The Ilana Hammerman saga
After 43 years of occupation, Israel has lost the right to be called a state of law
Ilana Hammerman, 10 June 2010
Max Blumenthal, Where Kindness Is A Crime, 24 June 2010
Seth Freedman, A Tel Aviv day-trip shouldn’t be a crime, 28 June 2010
Not long ago, a foundation by the name of The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel asked the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against me for violating the Law of Entry to Israel because I took three Palestinian young women out for a day of fun in Tel Aviv (“If there is a heaven,” Haaretz Magazine, May 7 ).
I am not a jurist nor am I well versed in criminal law. But as an ordinary citizen who is required to respect the laws of her country, I consider myself entitled, even obligated, to examine – including by means of common sense – the justice and morality of the laws that apply to me, and particularly with respect to other people who are subject to the laws of my country. It is on this basis that in recent years I have violated some of the laws of the State of Israel, and publicly announced that I was doing so.
I did not do this in rash defiance, but rather after much thought. Out of a need, that has become ever more pressing in the last years, to raise certain essential issues for in-depth public discussion in Israeli society – a discussion that will not relent when it comes to the word “law.” Because a law formulated by political authorities should never be sanctified, anywhere. Not even in regimes that were elected by the votes of a majority of their citizens. The law must continually be reexamined. Indeed, we Jews know better than anyone how the road to the human abyss is paved with evil legislation that was properly enacted and accepted by the majority.
This discussion is necessary not only because of bitter experience, and in the name of justice and common sense, but also because of the basic knowledge that every citizen of a democratic state is obliged to possess, concerning both national and international laws.
The essential things that I believe must be discussed all have to do with Israel’s military control of the territories, which were conquered in war 43 years ago, and with the hundreds of laws and injunctions that have derived from, and have been legislated by virtue of this control.
The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom was enacted in Israel in 1994. It includes the following stipulations: There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person; there shall be no violation of the property of a person; there shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise; all persons have the right to privacy and to intimacy; there shall be no entry into the private premises of a person who has not consented thereto; and, all persons are free to leave Israel.
All of these rights are denied the civilian Palestinian population living in the occupied territories under Israeli military control: Their lives, dignity and property are violated; their privacy and intimacy is not respected; and their private premises are entered without their consent. But, above all, their liberty is restricted: They are not free to leave their country, to move within it or to choose their place of residence at will. They are denied their liberty by arrest and imprisonment. Indeed, since 1967, approximately 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and imprisoned for various periods of time by the Israeli military jurisdiction to which they are subject.
All of these restrictions and violations of rights – compounded by confiscation of land, checkpoints, fences and walls, and a truly labyrinthine bureaucracy surrounding receipt of entry and exit permits – all of this leads to serious violations of another human right promised to citizens and residents of Israel: “the right to engage in any occupation, profession or trade,” which is enshrined in the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (1992 ).
How, for example, can a Palestinian farmer engage in his livelihood if all his land has been seized for the purpose of building and expanding an Israeli settlement? How can a Palestinian construction worker engage in his profession if his workplace is in Israel and the closures that are continually imposed on the occupied territories deprive him of the possibility of getting there? How can hundreds of thousands of other laborers “engage in any occupation” if there is no job market in the areas where they live, and the Law of Entry to Israel prevents them from getting to places where there is employment?
The Knesset has bestowed upon these two basic laws supra-legal status – meaning the courts have the authority to nullify any law that contravenes them. Section 12 of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states: “This basic law cannot be varied, suspended or made subject to conditions by emergency regulations; notwithstanding, when a state of emergency exists, by virtue of a declaration under section 9 of the Law and Administration Ordinance, 5708-1948, emergency regulations may be enacted by virtue of said section to deny or restrict rights under this basic law, provided the denial or restriction shall be for a proper purpose and for a period and extent no greater than is required.”
Having read this section very carefully, I reserve the right and duty to use common sense and to say that 43 years, and thousands of dead and crippled and hundreds of thousands of arrestees, do not fit the definition of a “proper purpose” or “for a period and extent no greater than is required.”
I have the right and duty to know the conventions of international humanitarian law that apply to a country that holds territory by virtue of military conquest – and which are intended to protect the civilian populations of such territories – and to conclude from this knowledge that the State of Israel is violating key sections of those conventions.
Specifically, the state is permitting its citizens to settle in territories that it conquered; appropriating private land in these territories for its own needs and those of its citizens; destroying the assets of individuals, and of groups and authorities in these territories; and trying the residents of these territories in courts located within its own borders, and holding them in prisons within its territory, in contravention of the regulation stipulating that they be arrested and tried within the bounds of their occupied land. And above all: The state is persistently and systematically, in contravention of the international conventions, employing collective punishment against a civilian population.
On the basis of these facts, which do not require any legal expertise to understand, one can say that Israel has lost the right to be called a state of law. It has also to a large extent lost the right to be called a democratic state. Because the principle of democracy does not accord with a situation in which about seven million citizens who enjoy the right of free election can determine the fate of the lands and lives of about four million people whose liberties and civil rights are denied them by virtue of military control.
This is what must finally be debated in a frank manner in the State of Israel: Is Israel truly a state of law? Is it truly a democracy? Is it truly a state in which the basic rights of the person in it “are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free,” as stated in the opening section of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty?
Furthermore, if it is not a democratic state or a state of law, what is the red line beyond which we can no longer continue to respect its laws and regulations without betraying our conscience, which requires us, just as the Basic Law of our country says, “to defend human dignity and liberty” – that is, the human dignity and liberty of every person, and not just the Jewish or Israeli person?
Where Kindness Is A Crime
Max Blumenthal, 24 June 2010
In a May 7 article, Haaretz reporter Ilana Hammerman described in dramatic detail a crime she had methodically planned and committed. In defiance of laws supposedly related to Israel’s security, Hammerman picked up three teenage Palestinian girls in their village in the West Bank, took them through the Betar checkpoint, and drove them into Tel Aviv. There they ate ice cream, visited the mall and museum, and played in the sea. Even though the girls lived just a few kilometers from the beach, Israel’s military occupation had prevented them from ever visiting it before their illegal “day of fun.”
Hammerman wrote in her account of the experience, “If There Is A Heaven:”
“The end was wonderful. The last photos show them about two hours after the trip to the flea market, running in the darkness on Tel Aviv’s Banana Beach. They didn’t want to stop for even a minute at the restaurant there to have a bite to eat or something to drink, or even to just relax a bit. Instead they immediately removed their sandals again, rolled up their pants and ran into the water. And ran and ran, back and forth, in zig-zags, along the huge beach, ponytails flying in the wind. From time to time, they knelt down in the sand or crowded together in the shallow water to have their picture taken. The final photo shows two of them standing in the water, arms around each others’ waists, their backs to the camera. Only the bright color of their shirts contrasting with the dark water and the sky reveals that the two are Yasmin and Aya, because Lin was wearing a black shirt.”
But the fun ended as soon as a group called The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel filed a request with Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein demanding that Hammerman be prosecuted for breaking the country’s “Law of Entry to Israel” forbidding Israelis from assisting Palestinians in entering Israel. If Weinstein agrees to the request, Hammerman could face as much as two years in prison.
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel was founded by a religious nationalist settler named Nachi Eyal. When I reached Eyal on the phone, he maintained to me that his concern related strictly to Hammerman’s disregard for the rule of law. “She broke the law and she made a report about her breaking of the law,” Eyal told me. “She wanted everyone to know that you can take Palestinians in against the law and lie to police officers and the Army. I want to send a message that no citizen in Israel can take the law into his hands and if he does they have to pay.”
However, a glance at Eyal’s past campaigns and statements reveal his targeting of Hammerman as part of a broader agenda that has less to do with the rule of law than with opening a new phase in the settlement movement’s political agenda. A former aide to settlement founding father Chanan Porat, Eyal founded his Legal Forum in 2004 to combat the Israeli government’s planned evacuation of the radical Gush Katif settlement from the Gaza Strip. In recent years, the Legal Forum has focused its efforts increasingly inside the Green Line, ramping up the pressure against Palestinian citizens of Israel and anyone who advocates on their behalf.
Eyal has boasted of his latest campaign to push Jewish settlement activity in coastal cities of Israel like Jaffa, Akko and Haifa which maintain sizable communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel. He claimed he has “encouraged Jews not to put up ‘for sale’ signs in these areas in order to dissuade Arabs from buying up these properties.” The Legal Forum is also intent on preventing Palestinian Israelis from building on their own land. “We are mapping Israel’s land resources, investigating illegal Arab building sites and filing suits against such building,” Eyal has said.
The Legal Forum is a prominent player in right-wing efforts to disqualify Palestinian-Israeli legislators from the Knesset. In May, when Balad MK Jamal Zahalka made anti-Zionist statements during a speech in Ramallah, Eyal called on the government of Israel to revoke his citizenship. “If a member of Knesset goes to the enemy and says bad things about Israel they must pay for this,” Eyal insisted to me. “Israeli democracy must have weapons to preserve the democracy or it will be destroyed.”
In another recent campaign, Eyal attacked a military investigation of an Army colonel who publicly justified his use of torture techniques to compel Palestinian detainees into confessions. The investigation “ties the IDF’s hands during the war on terrorism,” Eyal said, “and helps the terrorists.” Eyal’s Legal Fund spearheaded the campaign to suppress a book, “The House of Dajani,” that portrayed the early Zionists in unflattering terms. His efforts led to the reversal of a decision to award the book the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award.
Now Eyal’s efforts are focused on ensuring that Hammerman’s kindness does not go unpunished — “they have to pay,” as he said. The Attorney General has ordered the police to open an investigation of Hammerman and Eyal is confident that case will proceed to the next stage.
“I think we will succeed because [Hammerman] broke the law and she made a lot of noise,” Eyal remarked. “Israel will not allow these kinds of things to continue.”
Seth Freedman, 28 June 2010
Despite government claims to the contrary, Israel’s borders are far from impenetrable to residents of the occupied Palestinian territories. The separation wall is only 60% complete, numerous ways to circumnavigate checkpoints exist throughout the West Bank, and poorly patrolled perimeters provide any would-be terrorist with ample opportunity for security breaches.
It is an open secret that thousands of Palestinian labourers illegally cross into Israel every day seeking casual work, yet if Israel’s hawkish right is to believed, the only thing preventing a new wave of suicide attacks is an iron-fist policy towards Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Such a wilful distortion of reality is behind the scandalous police investigation of Ilana Hammerman, an Israeli journalist facing prosecution for violating the “law of entry into Israel”.
Hammerman’s crime was to take three Palestinian girls on a day-trip to Tel Aviv, in an act of civil disobedience intended to highlight the injustice of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. In a moving article for Haaretz, she wrote of their fraught experience avoiding detection at the hands of border guards and police as she ferried her quarry around the sights of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Even though they lived a mere hour’s drive away from the coast, the girls had never once seen the sea nor walked the streets of Israel’s largest city, thanks to the heavy restrictions imposed by the IDF.
Hammerman openly acknowledges her awareness of breaking the law, seemingly prepared for the consequences of admitting to her deeds in public: “I did not do this in rash defiance, but rather after much thought. Out of a need, that has become ever more pressing in the last years, to raise certain essential issues for in-depth public discussion in Israeli society”. In her eyes, her own liberty is worth sacrificing if it assists in the struggle to bring freedom to the millions of Palestinians held captive in their West Bank cantons.
Her bold actions have, inevitably, incurred the wrath of groups on the Israeli right, including the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel (LFLI) – an organisation founded to fight for settler rights during the 2005 disengagement. LFLI filed a formal complaint with Israel’s attorney general, calling for Hammerman to be prosecuted for her violation of the law, beginning a process which could result in her spending up to two years in jail.
According to LFLI director general Nachi Eyal, a prominent figure in the settler movement, “she wanted everyone to know that you can take Palestinians in against the law and lie to police officers and the army. I want to send a message that no citizen in Israel can take the law into his hands and if he does they have to pay”.
Hammerman is an easy and convenient target for the likes of Nachi, despite her crimes paling by comparison to the countless Israeli businesses employing Palestinians illegally on a daily basis, including employers within West Bank settlements.
For others, Hammerman’s defiant gesture is a laudable stand against the Israeli government’s inequitable policies. One Israeli activist working with Palestinian youth in the south Hebron hills describes her as “one of the great Israelis of our time” for her tireless campaigning, with others rallying support for her cause via NGO networks across the country.
Should the Israeli police take the bait and haul Hammerman over the coals for her actions, she will become another martyr in the vein of Ezra Nawi, whose heavy-handed treatment by the courts galvanised activists on the Israeli left who were horrified at the political bias displayed by the domestic authorities. Prosecuting Hammerman for her tame and harmless violations will only reinforce such a view, and will do nothing to protect the security of Israeli citizens in the process.
The likes of Hammerman and Nawi are vital in the fight to foster contact and communication between ordinary civilians on either side of the Israel-Palestine divide, and their work prevents even more hatred and mistrust being fostered towards Israelis than currently exists. However, portraying them as traitors and self-haters is the preferred tactic of the Israeli right, who believe that divisive, discriminatory policies are the one and only way to safeguard Jewish rights in Israel.
That their tactics have failed for years is of scant importance to those at the helm of the Israeli government. Fomenting tension and discord has left Israelis in constant danger for decades, but to Netanyahu and his merry men, robbing Palestinians of their rights to give succor to ultra-nationalist Israelis can never be bettered as a modus operandi. Flies in the ointment like Hammerman are a minor inconvenience, but no match for the clout and conviction of the hardline elements backing Israeli irredentism at home and abroad.
Whatever happens to Hammerman, there needs to be a serious re-evaluation of Palestinian rights in both the West Bank and Gaza, as much for Israelis’ wellbeing as that of their Palestinian neighbours. Highlighting the unfairness of three girls’ caged existences is a vital way to raise Israeli awareness, but unless it sparks a nationwide debate it will fail to come close to achieving its goals.
The tragedy of the Israel-Palestine imbroglio is that so few Israelis realise how counterproductive their government’s policies are, but with activists like Hammerman refusing to stay silent, there is still hope that the blinkers will fall from the public’s eyes before it is too late.