Imagined injustice and the disengagement

By Uzi Benziman

Haaretz

Adar2 17, 5765

A few dozen people gathered last week outside Ma'asiyahu Prison to protest the arrest of dozens of young people who allegedly blocked roads during recent anti-disengagement demonstrations. They wanted to remind people of the mass demonstrations organized by Shas when Aryeh Deri was sent to the same prison.

Although their pretentions were greater than their abilities - the leaders of the rightist groups who want to disrupt life in Israel during the coming months have something to learn from the passions ignited among experienced Shas activists - the goal was the same: To raise a hue and a cry over an imagined wrong and to create public support to frustrate due process and the enforcement of the law.

Aryeh Deri was sent to jail at the end of a long investigation and a judicial process in which he was given every possible opportunity to prove his innocence. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment (after his appeal was accepted in part by the Supreme Court) for serious offenses of fraud and corruption. Deri's crimes were defined as crimes of moral turpitude, meaning that he is ineligible, for a time, to hold public office.

In spite of the long process, which Deri delayed by employing various tactics, including refusing for quite some time to cooperate with the police investigation by exercising his right to keep silent, he and his followers did not accept the verdict. They accused the police, the State Prosecutor's Office and the courts of ethnic discrimination and extraneous considerations.

The attempts to lift the yoke of justice from Deri's neck, which also became entangled in the Bar-On-Hebron affair, spearheaded attacks on the justice system and manage to undermine its status with the public.

There are signs of a new such attack: The settlers are rebelling against the rule of law and the authority of the state. As if that were not enough, when the law catches up with them, they act as if they are the ones who have been wronged.

The settlers and their official leadership openly declare they do not accept cabinet and Knesset decisions to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. They challenge the legitimacy of these decisions, and there are those among them who declare outright their preference for another source of authority - rabbis who say that halakha (Jewish religious law) holds precedence over the laws of the state. They say openly that they will violate the law, oppose evacuation and defy the authorities. They justify this position by saying they are just exercising their rights to dissent and freedom of expression, and are outraged when they are criticized for the damage their demonstrations do to public order.

Some declare that they are prepared to pay any price for their defiance, that is, to be judged and bear any punishment that is meted out. In actual fact, however, the moment a few yeshiva boys and religious high school girls are arrested on suspicion of burning tires on the coastal highway, they and their families loudly complain about the arrests and their conditions of confinement. It won't be long before a lobby is established to extricate the misbehaving young people from the hands of justice. Such things have happened before: In many cases, yeshiva students arrested for violence during protests over Sabbath observance in Jerusalem had sympathizers within the political system who worked for their release from custody. The police usually acquiesced to the pressure.

More than the White House or U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer's briefings, the fate of the disengagement plan will be decided on Israel's highways and in the settlements to be dismantled. If the authorities do not defeat protesters and others who seek to employ force to undermine the implementation of the plan, the very foundations of public order will collapse and the state will be dragged into chaos.

The trial of strength over the state's ability to enforce its will is already underway at the Poleg junction, Yitzhar, Tapuah, Gush Katif and the northern West Bank. A police force, army and judicial system that blinks first in the face of the aggressive behavior, obstruction and insolence of right-wing lawbreakers are ensuring truely serious trouble for the country.