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Which law, exactly

Regarding "Disputed territory, indeed," by Robbie Sabel, Haaretz, June 4

Thirty-six years of occupation have wreaked serious harm on the lives of occupied Palestinians and their rights, and disastrous consequences for the society of the occupiers. An entire set of justifications has been erected to defend the occupation and the manner in which it is preserved. Questions related to territories and their future status are mainly political in nature, but they do also include several consequential legal issues. Statements made by some central figures in the Israeli legal arena require explanation.

Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who cautioned the prime minister that the term "occupied territories" should not be used is supposed to give legal counsel, not political counsel, to the government. As far as he is concerned, the binding law in Israel is that which is handed down by the Supreme Court. If he wishes to contest a legal ruling issued by the Supreme Court, he has to persuade the Supreme Court to alter it, or suggest the Knesset to pass a law that will nullify the court ruling. This principle is supposed to extend to the legal status of the territories, as well.

Political agenda

Telling the prime minister - in itself an unusual act, the reason for which is unclear - that the territories are not "occupied" but rather "in dispute" is a source of concern. Is not the attorney general familiar with the Supreme Court's ruling as regards the legal status of the territories? One might even suspect that he has a political agenda that is not related to his position as attorney general, due to which he has chosen to ignore the relevant court ruling.

Through the High Court of Justice, the Supreme Court has determined that "Judea and Samaria are being held by Israel in a military occupation or belligerent occupation. A military government - headed by a military commander - has been established in the region. The powers and authorities of the military commander derive from the principles of public international law as they relate to military occupation."

The court's ruling on the status of the territories is not reduced to mere statements of principle. In the Elon Moreh affair, the court considered an order issued by the military commander to seize the land of a private individual. The settlers argued that in assessing the legality of the order in question, international law is immaterial. Justice Moshe Landau offered an interesting response: the sole source of authority of the military commander to seize the land is the authority vested in the military commander by the international law pertaining to occupied territories. If this legal framework is nullified, the commander has no authority to seize the land.

As opposed to a stand expressed by Robbie Sabel, the Israeli army does not act solely on the assumption that the territories are subject to a regime of belligerent occupation, but also wields the authorities of an occupation force. No government can take actions against the individual simply on the basis of an assumption that it has the authority to do so. Would the attorney general explain the source of the military commander's authority to seize an individual's land in the territories, if said territory is not occupied but merely "in dispute." This question has practical consequence, as Beit El, for instance, is on land that was seized by the military commander for military purposes.

The legal status of the territories has implications for both the specific actions and their legality. According to a media report, the president of the Supreme Court said that he "was distressed over the approval of house demolitions, but that he was prevented from interceding since the Knesset has not passed a law on the matter (Haaretz, June 20).

Regular law

A curious statement. What does the Knesset have to do with the legal situation in the territories? Based on a ruling of the Supreme Court itself, the actions of the military commander in the territories are assessed in accordance with the norms of customary international law.

The court could have - and in our opinion, should have - ruled that punitive house demolitions are at odds with principles of customary international law, including the principle that prohibits collective punishment and the principle the prohibits destruction of property. There may be conditions that preclude judicial intervention in the actions of the executive branch due to complex security circumstances, but in the case of house demolitions, there were no judicial conditions that prevented intervention. The opposite is the case: legally speaking, it is difficult to understand how the court did not intervene.

Naama Carmi and David Kretzmer

Naama Carmi is a doctor of political philosophy. David Kretzmer is a professor of law at Hebrew University.

Coercion and conversion

Regarding "PM takes issue with Poraz on citizenship, conversion," by Haim Shadmi and Nadav Shragai, Haaretz, June 27

The article contains the following incorrect statement: "Conversions conducted by Reform or Conservative rabbis in Israel are not recognized by the government and thus do not provide citizenship rights." Haaretz surely must remember that several years ago the Supreme Court decided that the government of Israel is obliged to recognize conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel.

This was a major victory for these two movements which was achieved after a court battle of some six or seven years. Therefore all of our converts are registered as Jews by the Interior Ministry and are recognized by the government.

The court did not rule, however, on the question of citizenship and it has been the practice of the Interior Ministry not to grant citizenship, a practice which we strongly oppose. Minister Poraz has taken the position that there should be no link between conversion in Israel and citizenship and therefore he would not grant citizenship to anyone converted in Israel.

Although this at least has the merit of not discriminating against any of the religious movements, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement strongly opposes this position. There is something absurd about the idea that conversion in the Diaspora results in Israeli citizenship but conversion in Israel does not.

On the other hand the position of the prime minister that conversion by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate merits citizenship but conversion by other groups - conversion that the state itself recognizes - does not is even more objectionable. This can only strengthen the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate over religious affairs, a monopoly that results in religious coercion and in discrimination against the worlds' leading streams of religious Judaism.

The "fear" that our movement will convert thousands of foreign workers is so absurd that it hardly merits an answer. This has never happened and could not. Our standards of conversion expressly forbid this. Whatever criteria may be decided upon for granting citizenship, they must recognize the pluralistic nature of the Jewish world and must apply to all recognized groups no matter where they may be located.

Israel's discrimination against the Conservative Movement can only result in a further distancing between Israel and the Diaspora - the very last thing that is needed in today's world.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer

Head of the Bet Din for Conversion of the Masorti Movement Jerusalem

Hooray for hip-hop?

Regarding "Get into the groove," The Guide, June 27

Hallelujah! Hip-hop, groove, and reggae are here! So who needs the Missa Solemnis, or Don Giovanni? The Goldberg Variations or Kunst der Fugae? We can have Hadag Nachash and Quami la Fox etc. - whoever they are - who will perform 10 years of groove, at ticket prices of NIS 99, and also RuPaul, world famous drag queen teaming up with Madonna. Tickets for this cultural event are a mere NIS 120.

So why should the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra not play, for months, as they have been doing on a volunteer basis, because no money can be found to pay them? Why should the Israel Broadcasting Authority not pull the plug on the Voice of Music? There can be hip-hop, groove and reggae instead, enlivened with profit - generating advertising for Heineken Beer, and thus enriching our Israeli cultural life?

Which leaves me wondering: In these times of deep economic distress, how can thousands of people, mostly young, fork out the ticket prices for this shame, often at black-market prices? How come thousands can travel to Cyprus and pay hundreds for tickets to see a football match? Where does the gambling money come from? Is the recession, the poverty, the unemployment as bad as we think it is?

Anna Levin




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