Monday, June 8, 2009

Building just and democratic institutions - but whose exactly?

When world leaders speak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is of good form to ask a few things of the Palestinians, like building democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and renouncing violence. Even Obama's speech (which was remarkable) did not fail to make those points.

Such requests are never made to the Israeli government.

The assumption is no doubt that Israel is "like us" (I'm not even sure we always meet our own standards by the way) -- except for this little problem of the occupation, settlements and of course being occasionally "heavy handed." As in 22 days, 300 dead kids. That's "heavy handed." Sometimes we even raise the tone and say "it's not helpful." Then Israel trembles. But basically, institutions are THEIR institutions and they are fine. Israel IS by nature democratic, and who are we to ask anything. And as for violence, well... one just has to defend oneself. (And were it not for the occupation and violation of international law, I would agree.)

Now, Obama told the Palestinians that violence does not resolve anything. (In this particular case, I agree. But I haven't seen the US, the UK, or Israel adopt non-violence as a national defense strategy yet. Calling for Gandhis and MLK's is nice, but I haven't seen the US name a Mennonite as head of the DOD either.)

When it comes to institutions, forget the fact that Palestine [did you notice that Obama used that State Department-forbidden word?] has had more successful free elections than any other Arab country around and that the opposition won the last one; forget the fact that we forced on them the institution of a Prime Minister then forced a reversal to a presidential regime by-passing the office of the Prime Minister (and pushed for a civil war in the process). Forget all these things. Palestinians need institution strengthening, well... because they are Palestinians and they can't be trusted to run their own country without our interference.(1)

When it comes to rule of law, let's not talk about the fact that the last Israeli President resigned under prosecution for rape. That would be rude and interfering. Let's not mention that Ehud Olmert had to resign because of charges of corruption or that the current foreign minister is already being investigated. We don't challenge allies with their petty internal problems. But of course Palestinian corruption is a "HUGE" problem and we--still "we"--must demand that they do something about it. Especially during an occupation - they should have plenty of time to deal with that after all.

What triggers this post is not just the constant irony and injustice of this maddening conflict, it is a little bit of news. Something only remarkable because it was caught on tape. It happens, not daily but weekly or monthly in the hills of Hebron, but usually there is no camera.

I invite you to read and tell me whether our concerns for the respect of the rule of law are well placed.

The Haaretz article is pasted below and can be accessed here online.

(1) Believe me, I'm well aware of the weaknesses of Palestinian national institutions. I just don't think that they are comparatively worse than any other place. It does sadden me that some ministers and bureaucrats dream of nothing more than being the equivalent of their Egyptian equivalent and fail to see the richness of Palestinian civil society. But that's a topic for another day.

Prosecution drops indictment against settler filmed shooting Palestinians

The prosecution has announced that it is dropping the indictment against Ze'ev Braude, the West Bank settler who was alleged to have shot two Palestinians at close range during the evacuation of a disputed house in Hebron in December 2008, and was caught on film doing so.

Ze'ev Braude, 51, of Kiryat Arba, is alleged to have shot two Palestinians at close range during the evacuation of a disputed house in Hebron.

Braude, a Kiryat Arba resident, turned himself in to police last week after an activist with the B'Tselem human rights group caught him on film shooting at Palestinians at short range and hitting two.

During the evacuation of the house in Hebron, Braude approached the Matriya family residence, drew his gun and shouted at the family members to go inside, the indictment says.

Hosni Matriya, 44, went up to Braude and told to leave. Braude struck him and aimed his gun at him, said the indictment. Hosni's father, Abed el-Hai, 67, walked up and asked Braude to leave. Braude pushed el-Hai. Other family members came to help push Braude away and he fired at them. The first bullet passed close to one man's head and the second one hit Hosni's chest. A third bullet hit el-Hai's arm. El-Hai and two family members attacked Braude and stopped him from again firing his gun. They held him until Kiryat Arba residents arrived and took him away, the indictment says.

Hosni, who was shot in the chest, is awaiting surgery to take out shrapnel that remains around the wound. El-Hai, whose arm was broken, has been operated on twice and his arm has been set with screws.

The prosecution said that the evidence proves that "Braude initiated the incident at the plaintiff's house, which was out of his way. During the argument with the plaintiffs he struck his fist into the face of one of them. At this stage none of the plaintiffs was acting violently. The father of the family wrestled with him to stop the shooting - during the wrestling the defendant shot him as well."

Jamal Abu Safan, a relative of the injured Palestinian, told Haaretz that the court's decision shows "how racist Israel and its justice system are." He demanded that an independent body investigate the case.

Braude's lawyer, attorney Ariel Atari, responded that the Palestinian claiming to have been injured can be viewed in the video getting up after allegedly being shot and continuing to hurl stones and strike Braude.

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