The High Court of Justice Is in No Hurry

Had Peretz wanted to prove that he views racism as despicable and dangerous, he would have used his authority to cancel an instruction prohibiting Israelis and foreigners from taking Palestinians as passengers in their cars throughout the West Bank.

Had Defense Minister Amir Peretz wanted to prove in his actions that he views racism as despicable and dangerous - as it was possible to understand from his remarks on Monday to his colleague, Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman - he would have used his authority to cancel in a timely manner an instruction issued by GOC Central Command Yair Naveh that will go into effect on Friday. He has not, however, done so, and starting on January 19, 2007, Israelis and foreigners will be prohibited from taking Palestinians as passengers in their cars throughout the West Bank.

Had Education Minister Yuli Tamir truly wanted to change patterns that have become fixed in the education system during the course of 40 years of occupation, she would have already used her exalted position to raise an uproar in the Knesset and the government against the GOC's instruction, which undermines the right of Palestinians and Israelis to develop relationships on a friendly, familial and ideological basis. She has had sufficient time for this: The instruction was signed on November 19, 2006.

Had Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who is shocked, shocked, by the situation in Hebron, and has come to the conclusion that the law does not operate effectively there, been interested - he could have blocked the instruction that adds another building-block to the rule of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank: Naveh's instruction allows only Israeli employers (mainly settlers and people who live inside Israel proper) to drive their Palestinian workers. That is, it makes explicit a perception whereby the only possible natural relationship between a Palestinian and an Israeli and Jew is that of employee and employer.

Had members of the Israeli media, who were appalled by the sight of the young Jewish settler woman cursing her Palestinian "neighbors" in Hebron, in master-like gestures, been interested in being effective as well - they would have organized in time to express their shock at Major General Naveh's instruction, which will make a criminal of every Israeli who gives a ride in the West Bank to a Palestinian friend or a family member who is not a first-degree relative. But the media as a whole, and the Journalists Association and jurists who specialize in media law, have left the fight to the human rights organizations and a few lone journalists. Had the media not forgotten the innumerable reports that it itself has published about the doings of the settlers in Hebron and the military government there - it would have concluded that the demographic separation that Naveh's new instruction imposes is the offspring of the same mode of thinking and action that has brought about ethnic cleansing in the old city of Hebron.

Had the chorus of shock at a single filmed settler woman not been a matter of "ratings," but rather the expression of a moral stance accepted by society, the High Court of Justice would have issued an interim order to delay implementation of Naveh's instruction. But it has not issued any such interim order, even though eight human rights organizations, represented by attorney Michael Sfard, have given it the opportunity to do so. Nor did the High Court's Justice Edmond Levy feel any urgency about the matter, and he postponed the hearing on the petition until February 12.

The Court has been in no hurry because Naveh's instruction is logical and very obvious, and the road to it has been carefully and gradually paved in recent years, in a series of orders, instructions and laws, as well as the policy of separate roads and the route of the separation barrier. Always with the approval of the High Court.

The instruction concords with other prohibitions on movement that Israel has imposed on Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the very same territory where Jews have unimpeded movement, and residential, economic and trade rights.

For years now, these prohibitions on movement have been preventing thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank from visiting family and friends in Gaza. They are responsible for thousands of sagas about people who are not permitted to live with their families in their own homes or to care for their parents on their deathbeds. They prevent students from pursuing the studies of their choice at decent institutions of learning. They keep sick people away from clinics, women about to give birth from maternity wards, children from schools and workers from their workplaces.

These prohibitions have transformed about one-third of the area of the West Bank - the Jordan Valley - into a region that is empty of Palestinians, apart from about 50,000 whose official address, as it appears in their identity cards, is in the valley.

The instruction under discussion complements and completes one that was issued in October 2000 - and which under the well-known excuse of security prohibited Israelis from entering Areas A in the West Bank.

The new instruction is particularly efficient because it mainly endangers the Palestinians who may disobey it: For various legal reasons, it will be difficult to bring the Israelis to trial in a civilian court. The Palestinian "criminals," however, will be shunted in and out of military courts, be blacklisted and pursued by the Shin Bet security service, and find themselves facing prison terms of up to five years. This fact will deter Israelis from choosing to practice non-violent civil disobedience, as taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., by disobeying this flagrantly illegal command. The founders of apartheid in South Africa would have been proud.