It has been nine months since the first demonstrations began crowding the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with more and more people protesting against the justice reform envisioned by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his far-right coalition. And it has been a month since Italian-Palestinian citizen Khaled el Qaisi was handcuffed and detained at the Allenby crossing between the West Bank and Jordan.
At first glance, these seem to be unrelated events. The first is a heterogeneous mobilization (young people, start-up employees, magistrates, intellectuals, reservists, a part of the liberal right) against a reform aimed at neutering the powers of the Supreme Court. The second is the detention of a young Palestinian.
However, the two are intimately linked, although this is swept under the rug in the narrative of the Italian media and politicians about the el Qaisi affair and the protests. The protesters, and those reporting on them in Europe, are describing their actions as a mobilization in defense of democracy, with Israel as an accomplished democracy of which the Supreme Court is the final bulwark.
However, the current protests are actually a conservative mobilization, aimed at maintaining the current status quo, which for 75 years has discriminated, on ethnic and religious grounds, between people subjected to the same authority. Is it really possible to enjoy a free, independent and democratic judicial system within a structural context of military occupation and internal discrimination?
In 1948, the fledgling state of Israel needed to come up with regulations, to build an institutional and legislative framework that would “legally” manage the new reality on the ground, after a mass expulsion (80 percent of the Palestinian population at the time, nearly a million people) and the seizing of the movable and immovable property those people left behind. Laws were enacted, state confiscation was institutionalized, and a judiciary system was established that has ensured that those discriminatory rules have been respected, and have multiplied, ever since.
Since 1948, the Israeli judiciary has been one of the pillars safeguarding the regime of ethnic-religious segregation implemented within the State of Israel, and since 1967 it has been one of the pillars of the military occupation. Although in violation of international law, the Supreme Court has never challenged the permanent state of exception, something that Israeli historian Ilan Pappé – going further than Giorgio Agamben’s analysis – has called a “mukhabarat state,” a state of total intelligence and surveillance, which uses a mix of bureaucracy, army, intelligence agencies and violence to maintain control over half the people, living on the territory of historic Palestine.
The protests for “democracy” have no objection to all this. They demand that everything should remain as it is – including the double judicial standard applied in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, which is now keeping Khaled el Qaisi in prison without official charges and which 22 years ago received the official assent of the Supreme Court (which ruled that torture can be applied to Palestinian detainees). On the one hand, there are civil courts reserved for Israeli citizens (the settlers illegally present in the West Bank); on the other hand, there are military courts for Palestinians under occupation. Two radically opposed worlds: for the same crime, the rights of the detainee and the accused are different, the custody times and level of access to defense are different, and the sentences and legal age to distinguish adults from minors are also different.
Khaled el Qaisi is being subjected to this military justice system, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians before him (an estimated more than one million since 1967). It is impossible not to draw the connection between these two seemingly very different events, in order to tear down the mythologizing narrative that describes the Israeli protests as the vital force of a democracy that is inherently healthy, but endangered by a far-right government.
As long as there are different systems applied on the basis of ethnicity and religion, there will be no democracy. Instead, there is what Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs are not afraid to call apartheid.
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