Crossing Red Lines

The upcoming period is a test of the ability of Israeli democracy to follow the rules of the game.

On May 13, 1992, Bella Freund saved the life of Adnan Alafendi, from the Deheisheh refugee camp, who had just stabbed and slightly injured two Jerusalem teens. She shielded him with her body, and prevented a mob from venting its wrath on him. Later she explained that she felt sorry for the young Palestinian and wanted to prevent a murder.

Freund's attitude was extraordinary considering the common attitude of the Jewish public to Palestinian attackers: the spontaneous response is the desire to take revenge on the spot. The government, on the other hand, has so far represented the normative position, which prohibits lynching and begs the angry crowd to show restraint and surrender murderers to the police. (The exception was prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who once wondered out loud why terrorists leave the scene of the attack they perpetrated, or attempted to perpetrate, alive.)

The upcoming period is a test of the ability of Israeli democracy to follow the rules of the game that have so far enabled it to keep functioning. Over the past few days there have been signs that it is beginning to cross red lines. The Arab sector is taking justice into its own hands, the government is carrying out administrative arrests and the pullout opponents are breaking the law and declaring their intention to use force to thwart the decisions of the government and the Knesset.

In contrast to Bella Freud, not one person in Shfaram lay across the handcuffed murderer, Eden Natan Zada, to prevent the lynch by the enraged crowd. As opposed to the accepted stand of the country's leaders that criminals should be brought to justice, how many Arab MKs called for refraining from investigating the circumstances that brought about the killing of the Jewish murderer?

As opposed to the understandable response of the prime minister and ministers, who seek to calm the country after attacks, members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee uttered incitement that has the potential to foment and enflame. ("The government knew the intentions of the murderer and did nothing to prevent it; we are in existential danger - we will protect ourselves and our collective existence; we will bring up our position before an international forum.")

Sheikh Raed Salah outdid everyone when he called on Muslims to come to the Temple Mount, of all days on Tisha b'Av, the day tens of thousands of Jews will be gathering to mourn the destruction of the Temple, as their faith dictates, and will be backed up by thousands of demonstrators against disengagement from the Gaza Strip. This battery of responses from the leaders of the Arab sector brings them dangerously close to a red line.

It is happening in the government as well. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz swiftly issued administrative arrest orders against three right-wing extremists, and declared his intention to continue using this procedure. Other ministers backed him up. This is a worrisome attitude, which also smacks of crossing a red line.

Administrative arrest is a clumsy and problematic governmental tool that exists in Israel by virtue of emergency regulations that date back to the Mandate era. It is a means of expropriating the right of citizens to benefit from adjudication of their arrest by an independent body. It places wide-ranging authority in the hands of the defense minister to abrogate an individual's freedom. This practice is in opposition to the declaration of human rights, to principles of democracy and to accepted procedure in developed nations. (In the U.S., a state of emergency permitting administrative arrest has been defined as an invasion, a declaration of war or domestic rebellion with the assistance of a foreign army.)

Experience in Israel proves that administrative arrests were previously done (to Palestinians) not only because of palpable danger from those taken into custody, but as punishment, deterrance and for the convenience of the authorities.

Withdrawal is tearing Israeli society apart and raising a storm of emotions and aggressive urges. Consensus cannot be reached in the debate itself, but it is essential to keep to the rules of the game by which the decision is made.