Meretz City Councillor interrogated about rebuilding demolished house

May 7, 2012
Sarah Benton

Jerusalem council member questioned over helping to rebuild illegal Palestinian home

This is the first time an Israeli activist has been questioned about helping to rebuild demolished houses.

By Nir Hasson, Haaretz

Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem municipal council member, was questioned on Sunday under warning, about his part in rebuilding a house demolished by the municipality in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur. This is the first time an Israeli activist has been questioned about helping to rebuild demolished houses.

Margalit, who represents Meretz in the council and is active in the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was summoned by the state prosecutor to the construction supervision offices of the Interior Ministry, where he admitted that he was active not only in this case but in many other similar cases.

For more than a decade, activists from Israel and abroad have been helping to rebuild Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem, demolished either by the municipality or the Interior Ministry. Margalit told the investigator that as a senior activist in the committee, he was involved in rebuilding “more than two hundred houses” in East Jerusalem. The house he was questioned about was rebuilt with Spanish activists, and with the help of a donation from the Spanish government.

“I was asked if I did it on purpose and answered that I do not recognize the Interior Ministry’s right to question me about my activities in East Jerusalem, which is occupied territory and where Israeli law is not valid,” said Margalit. “I have a feeling this questioning is part of the McCarthyist offensive in Israel in recent years. Each time they pick on one organization or activist, and this time it was my turn, so I wasn’t that surprised.”

An Interior Ministry spokesperson said to Haaretz, “following a request by the state prosecutor’s Land Laws Enforcement Unit, Mr. Meir Margalit was summoned for questioning on suspicion of building without a permit, which is a criminal act. All Israeli citizens, without exception, are subject to Israeli law, which includes the Planning and Construction Law, which prohibits building without a permit. After completing our examination of the case, we will finalize our recommendations.”

It’s time for civil disobedience
By Meir Maargalit, JPost

I was questioned under caution! Not in gloomy cellar, without blinding projectors like in movies, without Shin Bet.
I was questioned under caution! Not in a gloomy cellar, without blinding projectors like in the movies, and without Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators who shouted and caressed alternately.

The questioning was conducted by officials from the Interior Ministry’s Construction Inspection Unit in Jerusalem. The suspicion – “illegal construction” that I allegedly carried out in east Jerusalem, and on more than one occasion.

I was reasonably treated, and was even offered a drink, but it was a charged situation – such construction is a criminal offense. In the corridors of the Interior Ministry’s Construction Inspection Unit in Jerusalem are quite a few officials who consider me a thorn in their side, and who deeply long to convict me of criminal offenses. I arrived for questioning with some curiosity that remained unsatisfied, because ultimately I couldn’t say if I got polite treatment because I’m a “public figure,” or whether Palestinians summoned questioning are similarly treated.

Whatever the case, I’m accused of direct involvement in illegal construction in east Jerusalem, of buildings that had previously been demolished by the Interior Ministry due to the lack of a permit. The investigation’s goal was to assemble a case that the attorney- general will file against me at some point.

I knew it was coming. For years I’ve been active in the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and involved in rebuilding homes that the state demolishes. The number of buildings that we’ve helped rebuild is countless, both inside Israel’s borders and in the Occupied Territories.

What’s certain is that in the 15 years of ICAHD’s existence the number of buildings exceeds a thousand. We never concealed our activities, or acted like an “underground” movement.

Nor did we hide behind false presentations like Gush Emunim’s “archaeological camp.”

We always acted openly, uprightly, and not for philanthropic reasons.

We are motivated by a combination of political, conscience- led considerations to express our civil disobedience against a phenomenon we consider an act of oppression, and our absolute denial of Israel’s right to demolish homes in the Occupied Territories.

A succession of Israeli governments have pushed the peace camp to the margins, and now moral people must make conscience- driven decisions. Seeing the massive and daily trampling of human rights in the Occupied Territories, we needed more than demonstrations which, while permitted, are devoid of power, and largely became efforts to let off steam but not much more.

The state crosses red lines daily, having lost the little shame it once had, ever since pathetic figures like Liberman and his ilk came to power. In the current patently immoral situation, people of conscience must take an active position. As the saying goes: “when people disappear, you must be a human being,” and we try to stay human in circumstances when humanity is becoming a rare item.

At this time when a black flag flies over us, civil disobedience is the only option available to people of conscience, anywhere and in whatever sphere.

Each and every one must do their best to stand up and say “no more.” There are things that a decent person must refuse to do, and rules that moral individuals must break even when they’re liable to pay the price.

Indeed, civil disobedience actions are performed every day – activists who enter areas of the Palestinian Authority that Israelis are forbidden to enter and meet Palestinian peace activists; youngsters who refuse military service on grounds of conscience; women who bring Palestinian girls to Israel to see for once in their lives what “the sea really looks like”; former combatants who break their silence and report on the army’s violence in the Territories; and a range of actions designed to erode the occupation’s foundations from within.

In his book The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi writes – “Some are surprised by the occupiers’ violence against those who endanger the occupation because opponents of the occupation threaten all the values it purports to represent.”

And that explains exactly what underlies the McCarthyist campaign now being waged against us.

Facing the indifferent establishment that knows no limits, sane people have formed a movement that is digging beneath the occupation’s foundations and damaging the legitimacy it ascribes to itself.

Against the trampling of human rights throughout Israel, the answer is non-compliance.

When the country demands discipline, we refuse to be disciplined, and state out loud our refusal to show loyalty to a state that acts in this way. That is how we retain our humanity.

Historians will one day be able to say that in dark days, when Israel acted like the worst countries in the world, there was a handful of activists who went against the current, stayed sane and saved it from ruin.

And that’s how we’ll prepare the ground for better times, because the murky right-wing wave will not endure. When it declines, we can raise our heads and rebuild the ruins left by the rampaging Right. And by the way – we didn’t invent this – the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah said so long before us.

The writer, who has a PhD and was active in the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, is a member of the Jerusalem City Council for Meretz and currently holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality. He was recently interrogated by the Ministry of Interior for re-building demolished houses for Palestinians in east Jerusalem without a license.

Petition for Meir Margalit
A petition in support of Dr. Margalit’s right to freedom of speech and action in his work as an elected representative has been set up. It says ‘We therefore urge the responsible authorities at the Ministry of Interior to ensure the freedom of expression, physical integrity and ability of Dr. Meir Margalit to continue his civic work, especially with regard to the freedom to perform the duties for which he was elected as a Councilor in the Jerusalem Municipality.’ To sign it, click here

UK Meretz Public meeting

Sunday 13 May: David Merron on The Kibbutz – Crisis, Continuity and Future

8:00 pm, Hashomer House, 37A Broadhurst Gardens, London NW6 3QT

Contributions: £5.50, £4 concessions, £2 members
Light refreshment

The kibbutz is arguably the most widely recognised and admired Israeli institution in the world. Many kibbutzim are affiliated to Meretz and sister bodies like Hashomer Hatzair. They also once contributed to the Israeli economy and military out of all proportion to their size.

Yet recent decades have seen the system come under severe strain: many kibbutzim shrank, some closed, younger members deserted, members were accused of elitism, even racism. So is the kibbutz heyday truly over? Or can the institution reinvent itself as it embraces dramatically new roles?

Tracing the fascinating ups and downs of kibbutz history, David Merron [see potted biography, below] will speak from personal experience about the past, present and future of the experiment that succeeded and then seemed to fail. In 1999 he published memoirs of his time on a kibbutz near Gaza: Collectively Yours – Tales from the Borderline. Since then he has lectured in many places on this topic, and he will also consider what the future may hold for the kibbutz of the 21st century.

Short background
The story of the kibbutz began some 102 years ago when a few immigrants from eastern Europe set up Degania Aleph by the Sea of Galilee. Since then hundreds arose and kibbutzniks soon formed a highly motivated and influential sector within Israeli society. Imbued with radical theories on socialist living, the earliest kibbutzim even sought to alter the conventional family structure.

Kibbutzim exemplified the old “pioneer spirit” and they became a nursery for successive generations of Israeli politicians. And British and other foreign visitors to Israel often get their first taste of the country by working on a kibbutz.

Ideological disputes within the contending kibbutz movements in the 1950s, however, caused immense damage. A banking and economic crisis of the mid-1980s threatened to snuff out the entire system. “New historians” revealed questionable actions by kibbutzim towards their Arab neighbours during the 1948 war, and many post-1948 olim of Sephardi and Mizrachi background accused the kibbutz of snobbishness and exclusivity. Existential trauma followed the decision by many kibbutzim to shed the socialist beliefs and practices of their founders.

Recently, however, the kibbutz has discovered new roles. Light industry long ago replaced agriculture on many of these collective villages; now numerous kibbutzim serve as eco-sites, tourism locations, hostels and educational colleges. Numbers of kibbutzim and kibbutzniks have declined over past decades. So can recent transformations save the kibbutz ethos in the new century?

David Merron

David Merron was born in London and educated at Grammar School. Following National Service, he dropped medical school and went out to a young border kibbutz in Israel where he lived for some years, including periods as general secretary and farm manager. He remarried and returned to England, qualified professionally as a Construction Projects Manager and a member of the Chartered Institute.

He has been writing for many years, has self-published three books and had articles published in various magazines. He holds an MSc in Palaeoanthropology and is currently working on articles for journals in the field. He has three children and lives in North London.

David has published two books this year: Borderline, and Delta – A Greek Triangle

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