Watching a Show at Israel's High Court

Samah Salaime
Samah Salaime
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Chief Justice Esther Hayut sits in the High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, October 27, 2020.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut sits in the High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, October 27, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Samah Salaime
Samah Salaime

Eight hours, 11 justices, 15 petitions, hundreds of pages of arguments, weighty questions and claims that begin in the days of the Bible and get to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and United Nations resolutions: The High Court of Justice invited the “non-Jewish” citizens, and the Jews who have not yet decided on the questions of ”who is a Jew,” who is an Israeli, who is a Zionist or who is the preferred citizen to the nation-state law show.

The hearing in the High Court, which was supposed to delve into the constitutionality of the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, quickly turned into an operation to award legal protection to the holy Zionist enterprise. It began with a warning letter from Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and continued with the efforts of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to intercept any argument that was launched at her with the aid of the 10 loyal soldiers in the legal battalion, including one Arab soldier, who remained silent throughout most of this absurd performance.

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For us, the simple people, it was clear that this judicial strategy of surrender would not stop the D9 bulldozer. It would certainly not protect its standing in the shadow of the right-wing governments that Israeli politics is creating at a dizzying pace.

Attorney Hassan Jabareen from Adalah presented a variety of arguments against the law. He spoke about belonging, the need for a comprehensive and broad law that would receive the support of a range of parties in the Knesset, of the majority not being able to exclude other groups under the same regime, of the Arab minority being recognized as a minority in its homeland according to international law, of the exclusion, discrimination and racism, The nation-state law has no chance of meeting the standards of human rights law in the world, he emphasized. After that, he brought examples from countries such as apartheid-era South Africa.

Jabareen had no choice but to use the doomsday weapon against racism – the Holocaust. “Between World War I and World War II, with the fall of the civil national state, countries reduced themselves to a countries of the ethnic majority. Very quickly the minorities who did not belong became victims. Why did the Jews become victims? Because they are the paradigm of the other. So the first section of the nation-state law is the most dangerous. It is a racist and exclusionary section,” he said.

We thought that the Holocaust would do the work, but to justify the lack of the value of equality in the law, Hayut enlisted … gender discrimination! A brilliant idea, no? “The value of equality is broader than equality between Jews and non-Jews in the State of Israel. It also applies to the matter of men and women, LGBT people, there are a lot of things.” In other words, the lack of equality between two groups – the Palestinian and the Jewish – will just limit the value of equality, which doesn’t exist in the country in any case. That is how we became subject to another injustice for which the Arabs are guilty.

The deputy president of the Supreme Court, Justice Hanan Melcer, continued with this line of defense. He urged the petitioners, who time after time mentioned the contradiction between the “Jewish” identity and the “democratic” identity of Israel, to make do with the present book of laws. In his opinion, “This is just a chapter in a future constitution … at a certain time it is necessary to unify everything and it will be necessary to remove the contradiction.” Melcer argued that by using “valid interpretation,” it may be possible to find advantages in the lack of a constitution in Israel.

After eight hours of fruitless debate, 70 years of day-to-day survival, naïve belief in democracy that will one day be victorious for the benefit of us all, building bridges and partnerships with Jewish citizens who aspire to peace and justice, they asked me as a Palestinian citizen of Israel to settle for “valid interpretation.” Does someone know what the hell that is?

Samah Salaime is a feminist activist, blogger and resident of Wahat al-Salam (Neve Shalom).

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