Under the Cover of a Commander's Orders

The shelves are overloaded with reports and studies, every generation discovers anew the sensational facts about the system of robbery of lands and the expansion of settlements - but everything goes on as usual.

A short while ago, the GOC Central Command published an order establishing in the occupied territories "The Ayosh Second Authority," which duplicates the Second Authority for Television and Radio in Israel. ["Ayosh" is a Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza.]

The order was published in response to a High Court of Justice petition against the decision to grant the settlers a permit to operate a radio station, on the grounds that an Israeli body - the Second Authority - does not have the authority to operate in the territories.

This legal maneuver drew hardly any attention, since it did not contain any striking innovation. Hundreds of previous "commanders' orders" have for a long time duplicated Israel's system of government, law and administration, and turned the territories into annexed areas; of course, only when the issue relates to, and is in the interest of, the Israelis.

Anyone who browses through the huge code of orders from the GOC, who according to the legal fiction is the sovereign in the territories, cannot but help be impressed by the diligence, sophistication and intellectual input invested with one single aim in mind - providing an impression of legality and respectability to a regime that smacks of arbitrariness and a lack of legality.

There is no aspect that has not been dealt with by the young and energetic officers serving in the military legal system. After all, under normal circumstances they would not have the opportunity to legislate laws that have an influence on the lives of millions - without checks and balances, restrictions and separation of powers - as they do when they formulate the order of a commander who even the High Court of Justice is afraid to censure.

The basic illegality embodied in making a substantive change to the existing regime, while exploiting the authority of a military regime that explicitly forbids a substantive change of this nature, apparently gives rise to a need, albeit sometimes grotesque, to spin a dense fabric of "legality" over the nakedness of the system. An impression has been created that the legal diligence stems partly from the fact that the regime, haunted by a lack of certainty, wishes to hide behind walls of paper.

It busies itself with Byzantine hair-splitting whose aim is to make a regime of dominants and dominated appear kosher by disguising it as security needs. And it makes efforts to whitewash the difference between the "rule of law" that embodies within it norms of justice and equality, and "rule by law" that turns the very observance of laws, even if arbitrary and unjust, into a supreme value.

Beyond the tremendous accumulation of necessary or superfluous orders, this code has another aim - to divert the attention of those who are opposed to it, to drag them into dealing with details and focusing on marginal matters. The experience of years of occupation shows how well this strategy of diverting attention has succeeded.

The supreme proof is the struggle of left-wing circles against the illegal (or "unauthorized") outposts. The distinction between legal and illegal settlements is untenable and confusing, because after all there is no settlement in the territories that is legal, according to the same international law on which the GOC's pretension to serve as sovereign is based. However, the regime's legal experts have succeeded in fixing this distinction between settlements that received government approval (in itself not legal), and those that were established without it (but with a nod from the government and its assistance).

Those who are opposed are sent off to deal with marginal and minor details. Since the political force that could enforce an evacuation on the settlements is not to be found, the opponents try to petition the legal system - and in this way, they fall into the trap set by the regime that plays on the legal field as if its sole owner. For after all, it is the regime that has formulated the rules of the game, and will always be able to change them.

Over the years, leading researchers have invested immense efforts to analyze and publish the catalog of legal wrongdoings and intentions. With alacrity they have revealed how arbitrary the legal system is, and they do not realize that the system is enjoying that they are wasting their energies without a chance of bringing about a change. For after all, if they succeed in a legal battle (and the chances of this are slim), a new "commander's order" will simply be issued. And if they succeed in arousing a public struggle, they will be accused of anti-Israeli propaganda and efforts will be made to drown the issue in a sea of boredom and forgetfulness.

The dogs bark as the convoy passes by. The shelves are overloaded with reports and studies, every generation discovers anew the sensational facts about the system of robbery of lands and the expansion of settlements - but everything goes on as usual. It must be admitted that the fashion of "follow-up reports" has exhausted itself.

Those struggling against the occupation now face the need to choose between two possibilities: to call for rejection of the entire legal code of "commander's orders" and begin nonviolent civil disobedience, or demand an end to the duplication and the imposition of Israeli law in toto, including democratic legislative processes, on the occupied territories.