On the eve of the expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Samaria, I called for civil disobedience. I called on government officials charged with executing the expulsion and demolition orders to refuse. I explained that any official who refused orders could expect to be dismissed or even put on trial. I stated that I was willing to forego my immunity (I was an MK then) and stand on trial for sedition if the attorney general deemed it appropriate. I believe the attorney general didn’t bother, because “no one got up.” There was no civil disobedience. The disengagement was executed smoothly.
I was reminded of these events this week when I read an article in Haaretz entitled “Civil Administration officials refuse to punish Palestinians for unity government” (Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, June 8). After the creation of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, the Israeli government decided to level sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, and asked for recommendations from the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration to that end. A senior Civil Administration official reportedly said, “if the Civil Administration were to level sanctions against Palestinian civilians, the administration would have no right to exist, as its purpose is to serve that population.”
His comments garnered widespread support from his colleagues, who also refused to cooperate with the sanctions.
I believe that civil disobedience is a moral action, permitted in extreme situations within democratic societies. Henry David Thoreau, John Rawls and Martin Luther King believed so too. They also stated that willingness to pay a personal price is inherent in such forms of opposition. I did not hear any of the Civil Administration members, who were refusing to carry out the orders of the elected government, display willingness to pay that personal price. I did not hear that the attorney general considered putting them on trial, despite – and in contrast to my situation during the disengagement – that their organized disobedience would have led to results.
Those who don’t know Benjamin Netanyahu might have expected that on the same day he would call in the head of the Civil Administration and fire him along with his staff. That would be the appropriate way to do things in a civilized country where the administrative officials are subordinate to the elected officials.
Netanyahu did not need the Civil Administration to level effective sanctions. Viable options would include closing Israeli air and seaports to Palestinian exports, demolition orders on Palestinian structures built without permits in Area C and seizing the PA’s bank accounts to cover its 1.4 billion-shekel debt to the Israel Electric Corporation – not to mention the appropriate diplomatic response, to declare the Oslo Accords null and void following the Palestinian application to the United Nations and the addition of Hamas to its government, dismantling the PA and applying Israeli law in Judea and Samaria.
But Haaretz readers can calm down immediately. Someone incapable of firing an insubordinate bureaucrat would never be able to do any of these things. Netanyahu knows that if he were to order the Civil Administration to carry out any of these moves, he would be met with “sabotage,” as they called it in Soviet Russia. Civil Administration officials – especially the jurists among them – have known how to conduct their own policy in recent years, and the government has been hard-pressed to cope with them.
It’s also important to note that the gut feelings among Judea and Samaria residents for the last few decades, namely that the Civil Administration “is on the Arabs’ side,” has just been proven true. During the days of the British Mandate, the Arab rioters would yell, “the government is on our side.” It seems they can do so once again.