In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. In politics and judicial proceedings these rules do not apply, but sometimes we can only wish that they would. Three mistakes is often one too many. The Or Commission of Inquiry is the third State Commission of Inquiry whose conclusions are wide off the mark.
The first to fail was the Agranat Commission that was set up to investigate the decision-making failures on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. The commission decided to put the blame on David Elazar, the chief of staff, who led the IDF to a brilliant victory from the most difficult initial conditions. What was obvious to almost everybody - that the fault for the mistakes made on the eve of the Egyptian-Syrian attack lay with ministerial decision-makers, and especially with the defense minister, Moshe Dayan - was disregarded in the commission's report.
Next came the Kahan Commission that was charged with investigating whether Israel was indirectly responsible for the slaughter of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp in Lebanon. That commission ended up placing indirect responsibility on defense minister Ariel Sharon and ordering him to resign, while it was obvious that the massacre was the result of a wild rampage by the Lebanese Christian militia, which was not under orders of the IDF or Israel's defense minister. But Sharon, and for that matter Israel, took the rap.
Now along comes the Or Commission of Inquiry, investigating the violent demonstrations by thousands of Israeli Arabs in October 2000, and the police handling of the accompanying events in which 13 demonstrators were killed. This time the inquiry commission, disregarding the root causes of the violence initiated by the demonstrators, puts the major share of the blame on the Israel Police, which was faced with the unenviable task of putting an end to the violence before it went out of control.
It is difficult to believe that the Or Commission ignored the rapid rise in subversive activities and incitement against the state that occurred among a part of Israel's Arab community since the Oslo accords. Among the outstanding examples: Ahmed Tibi, an Arab citizen of Israel, serving as adviser on "Israeli affairs" to the head of the PLO Yasser Arafat; MK Azmi Bishara's trips to Damascus and his denunciations of Israel there; support for Hezbollah declared by a number of Arab MKs; the annual mass meetings in Umm al-Fahm under the slogan "Al-Aqsa is in danger;" the attempt to illegally build a mosque opposite the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth; the activities of the Islamic Movement and its attempts to incite the Bedouin community against the state and the increasing number of acts of terrorism perpetrated by followers of the Islamic Movement.
It should have been clear to the Or Commission that all this was leading to a boiling point that would erupt in violence and insurrection, and if it were not halted in time it could easily spread to much of the Israeli Arab community.
The commission was wrong in ascribing the unrest to discrimination practiced by the state against its Arab citizens. Not that a great deal does not need to be done to bring Israel's Arab citizens up to the level of Israel's Jewish citizens. Nor that urgent help is not needed by the disadvantaged Bedouin community. But a cursory look at photographs of the stone-throwing demonstrators waving PLO flags, and not Israeli ones, should have been sufficient to convince the members of the commission that these were demonstrations against Israel and in support of Yasser Arafat, and not in demand of greater equality for Israel's Arab citizens.
The Israeli government is to blame only in that it did not awaken to the growing danger earlier, and that it appeased the most radical and extreme elements in the Arab community. For years the Islamic Movement was allowed to spread its poisonous propaganda. Arab MKs were allowed to travel to Syria, a country at war with Israel. A stop was not put to the anti-Israel mass meetings in Umm al-Fahm, while the illegal mosque in Nazareth was stopped only after the foundations had already been laid. Is it any wonder that the extremists took all this as a hint that the government of Israel felt itself powerless to deal with their subversive activities and felt encouraged to take violent actions?
Along comes the Or Commission and blames the police. Of course, the police need to look into whether the near-impossible task they faced in October 2000 could have been handled better and whether loss of life could have been avoided. Faced by thousands of hostile demonstrators throwing rocks, blocking major arteries, burning down buildings, it clearly could have ended up far worse. What is certain is that there has been no recurrence of this kind of violence in the past three years. For that, everyone should be grateful to the Israel Police.
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