Monday, November 12, 2007

It's the Law

Recently, I mentioned the Israel Palestine Forum and recommended becoming a member

In one of the topics, someone wrote in response to one of my messages:
I always thought a coin had two and learn..... I have my views on it, no less valid than news and article based views and naturally in disagreement with the above. But I won't argue politics with you. I find it quite pointless. What should we do today to somehow end this age old conflict? Peace is made between enemies. Friends are already there As a starter I would say lets talk with our enemies even when they are shooting. I suggest this to BOTH sides concerned.
To which I responded

First let me say that I am in total agreement that negotiations should take place when there is violence and the parties are enemies. I also agree that a coin does have two sides. Arguments and disagreements have two sides. Often when that happens, the matter ends up in a court of law as a tort case or a criminal matter. Eventually, often, an impartial body decides based on hearing the “two sides” that one is “right” and the other is “wrong”. As a result, money may change hands and/or someone might go to jail.

We may disagree but to me it is not a matter of politics and is not pointless. Probably because of training in the law, I believe that the conflict is a matter of law and is of critical importance. A good place to begin is with the occupation and the Jewish settlements. In my opinion, the Government of Israel has been in violation for 40 years of the Fourth Geneva Convention, international human rights, UN Resolutions and the teachings of Judaism. I would be pleased to share with you more details. Jeff Halper takes this a step further and says that the Government of Israel is not just transferring its population into the occupied territories in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention but has, since 1967, been engaged in an effort to colonize the West Bank and dispossess the Palestinians by its pattern of house demolitions, uprooting of olive trees, roadblocks, the wall, etc. Every day the newspapers carry stories about the “upcoming” peace conference. Here is what appeared in today’s Boston Globe:

"Olmert strongly endorsed the peace talks in a speech to a Jerusalem audience the night before. While the Palestinians pushed hard for the conference to tackle the final status issues, the Israelis had balked, saying they wanted security needs met first. Olmert, conceding nothing on the security question, said, "Annapolis will be the jumping-off point for continued serious and in-depth negotiations which will not avoid any issue or ignore any division which has clouded our relations with the Palestinian people for many years." But in his speech, delivered in Hebrew and broadcast live in Israel, Olmert cast the issue of a timetable far more cautiously than did Abbas. "If we and the Palestinians act with determination," he said, "there is a chance that we can achieve real accomplishments, perhaps even before the end of President Bush's term in office."
The article goes on to say that the negotiators had not decided how to tackle the four final status issues: the contours of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the removal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. (I understand that they did agree, after ten long hours of debate, that the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series and that the New England Patriots are undefeated. ( - : ) Note that it doesn’t say that they had not decided these issues. It said that they had not decided HOW to tackle them.

From this article would you be able to make an educated guess as to which party might not be negotiating in good faith? Does anyone believe that the Government of Israel is sincere when it uses “Israel security first” excuse for not negotiating? Does anyone believe that the Government of Israel has ANY intention of entering into any agreement that would result in a “just peace” for the Palestinians which includes a viable contiguous state? The only agreement possibly acceptable to the Government of Israel is one where the Palestinians “unilaterally surrender” their hopes and dreams and agree to live in isolated “cantons” or, if you like, “Bantulands”.

But I would like to think that world opinion would know that that amounts to unacceptable apartheid. Hmmm???

Interesting point, of course, is what option is left if the Government of Israel continues to reject a just two state solution and the world rejects the apartheid option. Isn’t the one state solution the only one left standing?

In a civilized society, we have laws. When laws are broken we bring the wrongdoer to court. By having laws, we hope to prevent “lawless” retaliation and acts of “vigilante justice”. Failing to take the Government of Israel to court and failing to hold it responsible and accountable for its illegal and immoral actions in maintaining the occupation and fostering the growth of the settlements has led to just what could have been predicted – violence and revenge.

So, you ask “What should we do today to somehow end this age old conflict?” For certain, you don’t ignore what both parties have to say about what has happened in the past. As I said above, this discussion is not political and it is not pointless. It is legal and it is evidence.

Our first step is to speak out and promote open and wide discussion about the facts behind the occupation and the settlements. Once the public has heard both sides, I would expect that it would "decide" that the Goverment of Israel has pursued a path of injustice for 40 years in the occupied territories and bring intense pressure on and demand that the Government of Israel agree to a “just peace” for the Palestinians.

To which the same person responded on this topic and a related topic:

“It's sad to see how someone trained in law can suggest a trail where one side is already convicted. I am not going to argue this. I see no point in it.”

“My feeling is in many political discussions is that it's all about who's right and who is wrong.”

“I can assure you, it won't happen by the two sides accusing each other for what is happening.”

“Doesn't anyone get that "who is right and who is wrong" is an impotent discussion?!”

I know I have been influenced by having been in the legal community for 47 years but I frankly am bewildered by these comments that seem to be saying that any discussion about right and wrong is “political”, "pointless" and “impotent”.

For years I have been aware of hundreds (thousands?) of cases where individuals and groups have been treated badly – they have been discriminated against by employers, they have been injured by faulty products, they have gotten sick from toxic waste, they have been prevented from getting an education, they have been abused by spouses.

I also followed the trial of Slobodan Milošević, indicted in May 1999, during the Kosovo War, by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Charges of violating the laws or customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in Croatia and Bosnia and genocide in Bosnia were added a year and a half later. He died in prison after 5 years just prior to the end of his trial.

What did they do? They complained to courts. Judges did not say that discussions about right and wrong are pointless, impotent and political. They did not send them away and tell them that should sit down and talk They did not say that discussions about right and wrong are “impotent”. The judges thought it was critically important to pursue justice – just as demanded in Deuteronomy 16:20 Sometimes wrongdoers had to pay money. Sometimes wrongdoers went to jail.

As an example I strongly believe that the Government of Israel has violated the FOURTH GENEVA CONVENTION RELATIVE TO CIVILIAN PERSONS IN TIME OF WAR, OF 1949: ARTICLE 49 - “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Article 35 is similar. I believe that it is of fundamental importance as a legal matter (and it is not at all political) that we not only discuss it but have it heard in a court of law. Why? Because there would likely be a finding that for 40 years the Government of Israel has intentionally violated this article and a judgment that the settlements should be dismantled.

(And by the way as a response to his sadness that a lawyer would prejudge a case, there is nothing in the law that says that I cannot, based on my knowledge and experience, have an opinion on a legal issue; i.e., I was quite certain before the trial ended that O.J. Simpson was a wrongdoer. What we must not do is to send anyone to jail - or even find someone guilty in a criminal case - without a jury of that person’s peers finding him or her guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt.)

Once we have the judgment and it has been implemented, we have accomplished something and THEN we can sit down and talk. With the dismantling of the settlements, and this precedent of looking at who is wrong and punishing the wrongdoer, there is the “possibility” that through “political” negotiations the result might be a “just peace” - the establishment of a viable contiguous Palestinian state.

Should anyone be interested in references to international human rights laws, United Nations Resolutions, and obligations in the Torah and the Prophets the Government of Israel may have violated, please ask.

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