Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Micro events

Ira Sharkansky

A British court has rejected a petition from Gaza, via a London law firm, that Defense Minister Ehud Barak be arrested for having committed war crimes during the recent Gaza operation. The petitioners relied, in part, on the Goldstone report to the UN Human Rights Commission.
The British Foreign Office opposed the petition on the ground that Barak was a state guest (in London for talks with the prime minister, defense and foreign officials) and therefore not subject to such lawsuits. Israeli officials asserted that the petition was political in nature, that an arrest would damage Israeli-British relations, and set a precedent that would endanger officials of other countries - including Britain - that fight terrorists in controversial operations.

This is not the first time that Israeli politicians as well as present and former military officers have found themselves the targets of legal actions in Britain and other European countries. They are among the micro events that worry Israelis, far from the drama of war or meetings in the spotlights of the United Nations and world capitals.

Stone throwing directed at a group of non-Jewish European tourists on the Temple Mount, and an spurt of violence in the Old City on the day before Yom Kippur might have reached the international media. Probably below notice were efforts to fire bomb the gas station on the border between Isaweea and French Hill, and subsequent tussles between police and some Isaweea residents, also on the day before Yom Kippur.

There has also been a spurt of rocket, mortar, and small arms firing from Gaza, so far without Israeli casualties.

These may be the signs of a restive population, the efforts of extreme Palestinians always concerned to light a spark that will burst into something greater, the efforts of Palestinians leaders to satisfy those among their supporters who want action, or the leaders' hope that a bit of violence will develop into national salvation.

The use of legislation in European countries against human rights violations wherever they occur has made politicians, military officers and retired officers concerned about foreign travel. It has produced official promises of legal defense, but who wants to risk even temporary arrest when on a personal, business, or family trip to Europe? The Goldstone report has been widely condemned, but it is an official document of the United Nations. It has standing with a judge who wants to honor it, or does not know the difference and responds routinely to a petition submitted in proper form.

While some European politicians and activists support these actions against Israel, others see political motives in a judicial format, and worry about retaliatory actions against their own politicians and military officers who may done something dicey in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another place. Judges in well run democratic countries have considerable independence, and may act on their own even where government officials express opposition to the issuing of arrest warrants.

Israel could retaliate in the case of any country whose court that holds an Israeli by invoking its own laws against human rights violations against visiting military or political officials. That hardly seems likely, given the aspirations for such people to visit and consult with Israelis, and for the larger reason of not giving support to legal devices most likely to be used against Israelis.

There are other actions that Israel can use. Indeed, one can wonder if Palestinian actions against Israelis are in response to the mini actions that Israel takes against Palestinians. Currently in the works is Israel's opposition against the application of Palestinian entrepreneurs to open a second Palestinian cell phone service, which Israeli officials say is in retaliation against the efforts of the Palestine National Authority to charge Israel in the International Court of Justice.

The name of this game is, You make things difficult for us, we will make things difficult for you.

On Israel's list of possibilities are all those roadblocks, and the control of the borders around the West Bank as well as the northern and eastern boundaries of Gaza. Distinguished and not-so distinguished visitors to Palestine and Palestinians do not like delays or rejections when they want to enter or leave, or pass from one part of Palestine to another.

Who starts tit for tat frictions? That is less important in keeping them at a low level, rather than bubbling up to another intifada, Israeli responses, funerals, and property destruction.

Management rather than victory is the goal. There is no end in sight. Neither Barack Obama or anyone else has a better idea.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University

1 comment:

justjames said...

It is my personal opinion that ‘writing the wrongs’ constitutes propaganda that is poorly checked and inaccurate. This is not a personal attack on the author(s), but a stand against the spread of information that deliberately defies accountability for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and the deliberate use of degrading and generalised material on the real problems of Palestinian statelessness.
Don’t fund ignorance. Make your own mind up, not someone else’s.!OpenDocument