As in Little Rock

The settlers and their sympathizers know that most of the Israeli public doesn't support or especially like them. As a result, in their public relations campaign against the construction freeze in the settlements, they are not focusing as they did in the past on slogans such as "It is the right of Jews to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel," but instead are using the discourse of human rights. So, for example, in the name of freedom of speech they are coming to the defense of the seditious statements by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed. In this respect, they are adopting the tactics of a number of spokesmen for the Israeli Arab community whose worldview is based on not accepting the legitimacy of the State of Israel, but whose choice of language is also rooted in human rights discourse.

The same approach is also behind the decision by a number of settler spokesmen not to oppose the construction freeze in the settlements head on. They know they should not be dragged into a situation in which they call into question the legitimacy underlying the elected government's decisions. After the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, they are well aware of the slippery slope this presents. So they raise a different argument: that it's a police matter and the army should not be involved. In a democratic country, they maintain, the army should not be used against citizens of the state.

This argument is baseless. First, it's worth remembering that the legitimate Israeli power in the territories is the Israel Defense Forces. (All the settlers' local authorities act by virtue of the Military Administration; in fact, civilian Israeli law does not apply there). Second, while it's true that democratic governments usually use the police and not the army in acting against their own civilians, when democracies encounter emergency or crisis situations, they do bring in the army.

During the struggle for black civil rights in the American South, the federal government found it hard to enforce integration of the schools because of white opposition. It was president Dwight Eisenhower who in 1957 decided to send federal troops to the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the integration decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a speech to the nation, Eisenhower said it wasn't important what citizens or people in high office thought of the court's decision. At the end of the day there is only one authority, and the failure to enforce integration would spell the disintegration of the government's democratic foundations. To ensure effective law enforcement, the 101st Airborne Division, the U.S. Army's elite unit, was sent to Little Rock. Troops from the division accompanied nine black children to a "white" school in the city for an entire year.

When friction between Catholics and Protestants intensified in Northern Ireland in 1969, the British government sent the army to the province, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom. The army remained there for more than 30 years, and at the height of the deployment 30,000 troops were there. About 700 soldiers were killed during those years and thousands wounded. Public opinion was not enthusiastic about dispatching the army, but there was no objection to the legitimacy of the decision. Germany's Weimar Republic, on the other hand, was hesitant at times to deploy the army against riots instigated by the extreme right or left.

The lesson is clear. In their defense, democracies must deploy the army, albeit with a heavy heart, but this is a legitimate step. And it doesn't matter whether the call to insubordination or rebellion comes from the right or left. So the Israeli army was correct when it acted forcefully against disobedience by the extreme left. No manner of hairsplitting can justify disobedience of one kind and legitimize disobedience of another. That must be understood first and foremost by those who speak in the name of universal values that apply to all citizens, whatever their personal beliefs may be.