Opinion |

Israel Robs Land, but Only in Accordance With the Law

Half a million Israelis – the settlers – are being removed from the purview of the law. A democratic country’s basic values are being shattered.

Zvi Bar'el
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People walk near houses in the settlement Ofra, February 6, 2017.
People walk near houses in the settlement Ofra, February 6, 2017. Credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters
Zvi Bar'el

The Knesset’s passing of the bill permitting the theft of Palestinian land is but a marginal step in the saga of this legalized crime. This was but an irksome bureaucratic procedure that will soon be unnecessary.

The real “legislation” wasn’t passed by the Knesset. It was established when the prime minister “updated” the U.S. administration about his intention to spit in the international community’s face. This update sounded like the “putting you on notice” that was delivered to Iran.

It’s unclear what Washington’s response was to the Israeli issue. What’s clear is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the authority of the U.S. president to enshrine Israel as an outlaw.

"Updating" is an interesting term in this context. Israel no longer asks, consults or explains. It updates. The United States is only a recipient of the message, not an active player.

The U.S. administration puts countries on all kinds of lists ones that violate human rights, ones that support terror, ones that deserve sanctions and ones that are “pro-West.” Donald Trump has now launched a new list: tyrannical democracies that by special dispensation are exempt from obeying international law. Right now there’s only one country on that list but all are invited on condition they drop their mantle of shame.

Shame or worries about legal retribution abroad don’t plague Israelis, certainly not their government. Most of them don’t know what the new law says, because as in every real estate scheme the law is complex, convoluted and deals only with events in a parallel universe that most Israelis have never visited and don’t intend to.

Israelis who unfortunately live in Israel proper can only dream of such a law that would let them take over their neighbors’ plots or just build a balcony that would hide their neighbors from view. For Israel is a meticulous law-abiding state when it comes to its citizens, particularly Arab ones. Mafia rules only apply to its other state, the settler state.

In general, legislation under the current government has become a clerical act dictated by dons. In Russian, the government and its supporters in the Knesset would be called vory v zakone thieves in law the term for the Russian criminal elite after the Soviet collapse who operate according to their own internal codes.

This epithet definitely suits Israeli legislators who supported the expropriation bill. In Israel, as in Russia, anyone who dared oppose the new law will soon find himself in a political graveyard, a suicide victim.

It’s true that dual legislation has characterized Israeli rule in the territories since 1967, but on Monday a legislative revolution took place. The principle of checks and balances was shattered. Half a million Israelis were removed from the purview of the law and even a court won’t be able to overcome this unless it strikes down the land theft law, bringing about an even worse law.

But what does this have to do with us? After all, what happened here, merely a violation of international law? Where has the international community been napping for 50 years? More importantly, this voodoo legislation was carried out in the most democratic manner. After all, we’re not Saudi Arabia or Russia.

It’s not superfluous to ask now what would cause more damage, keeping the settlers in the illegal outposts, including Amona, as criminals, or shattering a democratic country’s basic values in order to whitewash the abomination. What would cause more damage, continuing the game in which the state supposedly obeys the High Court of Justice while bypassing it by trickery, or a formal demolition via legislation of the illusion of a state of law?

Fortunately, the Knesset has solved the dilemma for us.