An article by Michael Sfard, the legal advisor to the Yesh Din.
Congratulations. The 48th year of occupation has ended. It was a particularly good one. A year in which one of the main disorders afflicting Israeli society was restrained. A year in which we Israelis made rapid progress toward consolidating our collective personality, a personality that has suffered for years, or perhaps since the State’s foundation, but more forcefully over the years of occupation from what psychiatrists term “dissociative identity disorder.” “Split personality”, in laymen terms.
The two personalities feuding in the soul of Israeli society managed, with time, to develop a modus vivendi, despite their mutual hostility. But during the 48th year of occupation one personality began to dominate the other; in the distance the Biblical Cain inside us is rising to slay our Abel.
Contrary to claims made in certain radical circles, Israeli society and the State of Israel have profound and authentic liberal foundations. The structure of the Israeli regime includes an elected legislature and the separation of powers; the approach emphasizing the supremacy of law; and the Supreme Court’s early choice to raise the principle of freedom of expression on its various levels to a fundamental constitutional right and to defend it stubbornly. All these are not coincidental, nor are they public relations stunts. But at the same time, Israel’s definition as a “Jewish” state and the sanctification of the nationhood; the dispossession of the people who were here when the state was established; the violent conflict with our neighbors; and above all, the creation of an underclass of citizens who face institutionalized and systemic discrimination because they belong to the Palestinian people. And these too are profound and authentic foundations, part of Israeli society’s defining qualities.
For years these two personalities danced a Capoeira in the Israeli public sphere. Along with legislation reflecting respect for basic rights and the supremacy of the concept of human dignity, political, artistic, and academic pluralism, we fashioned a bureaucracy and public policy that perpetuate hegemony and formalize expropriation and discrimination. Above all, we created a monster: a protracted occupation that denies millions of their civil rights while we feed off the riches of their land, at their expense. The weight of occupation has been added to the anti-liberal side of the Israeli scales. As time passed, the things we have been driven to do to maintain our control over millions of people have become harsher. And the weight of the occupation has increased accordingly, amplifying the nondemocratic, nationalist, and racist forces in us.
Probably the clearest manifestation of this acute personality disorder can be found in the rulings of the Supreme Court. Israel’s supreme judicial institution also displays clear signs of a multiple personality syndrome. Over the years, one Supreme Court has issued liberal and activist rulings addressing a wide spectrum of human rights and was ready to render them in many cases at the expense of clashes with other arms of government. The Court’s jurisprudence included among others defense of freedom of expression, protection from religious coercion, equal rights for the LGBT community, and even important rulings concerning animal rights. But simultaneously a second Supreme Court has exhibited extreme conservatism and passivity and a willingness to sacrifice any type of basic right in the name of national security. Its rulings have sanctioned almost every practice and policy the State of Israel has applied in the Occupied Territories. This Court has given its seal of approval to our most offensive actions in these areas: deportations, house demolitions, land confiscations, extra-judicial killings, mass administrative detentions, restrictions on movement, segregation according to nationality, and more.
As such, every new year of occupation is inevitably a bad year for whoever desires a democratic Israel founded on humanistic principles. Acquiescence and addiction to domination and subjugation of the Palestinians have taken root and are a central component in our individual and collective personalities. The 48th year saw a war of unprecedented cruelty against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip; a new government that openly declares its hostility to pluralism (accused of “harming the state”) and a Prime Minister who did not blink before he rode the waves of volatile racism on his way to office. This year has also seen a series of Supreme Court rulings that raise concern that this institution’s liberal streams are also losing their vitality. Look at the Court’s recent rulings: the judgment upholding the “boycott law”, in which it approved restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of non-violent political action is unparalleled in any democracy with a judiciary that cherishes civil liberties; the case in which the Court approved the second expulsion of Bedouin citizens from Umm al-Hiran in the Negev to make room for a Jewish settlement group; and the decision to deny security prisoners the right to study in the Open University. A stream of rulings that permit violation of basic rights, and not even in the name of security.
If this was what the 48th year was like, we have good cause to be frightened now as we enter the 49th year. The way things look now, our democratic foundations will continue and even accelerate their collapse. Fascisization and McCarthyism towards anyone who dares to think differently threaten to dissolve the remnants of the liberal personality. It is particularly painful that all this is being done in the name of ostensibly “Jewish” values. If we were truly a Jewish state, the 49th year would be one of rejoicing: the seventh Sabbatical year, followed by the Jubilee year, when all slaves are set free: “Set aside and consecrate the fiftieth year to declare liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). But the occupation has no Sabbatical year and no Jubilee. Theft and subjugation continue unabated.
Welcome to the 49th year.