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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Something is Happening to Israeli Democracy on the way to disengagement...

By Nadav Shragai
Originally published in HaAretz on Sun., April 17, 2005 Nisan 8, 5765

Something is happening to Israeli democracy on the way to disengagement.Almost every week more and more fine lines are being crossed between a regime that is totalitarian and one that is tolerant and pluralistic. "The spirit of the commander," that strong-arm spirit behind the firing of ministers, the misleading of voters, the denying of the platform and decisions of party mechanisms, and finally the refusal to face up to a national referendum over an unequalled historical process, is now seeping down into the field.

Under the aegis of disengagement, non-voilent demonstrators are beaten at crossroads and along the highways, but the general media hardly bother to make mention of this. A minor from the Benjamin region was detained following a demonstration, badly beaten all over his body and hospitalized. V., a yeshiva student from Bnei Brak, dared to flee policemen who were chasing him and, immediately after he was arrested, received special treatment: He was choked, handcuffed, and kicked, and when he vomited had his head smashed on the floor. The handcuffs were removed only after a Magen David nurse refused to treat him unless they were. Even passersby, like Y. from the Jerusalem region, fall victim to unbearable and unnecessary police brutality.

The Hanenu organization, which helps Jewish protest detainees, has many more reports of police violence, such as a policeman who grabbed a minor outside the president's residence in Jerusalem while his colleague beat him uninterruptedly.Another demonstrator, Dr. Shai Gross, also fell victim to police beatings after daring to remark to them that they should not swear.The large number of cases seems to indicate that this is not mere stumbling on the part of individuals but rather a trend.

In Eilat, all those wearing skullcaps and dressed in orange - the color of protest against disengagement - were pushed aside from the crowd celebrating Eilat Day when Ariel Sharon addressed them, while the supporters of disengagement in their shirts with the slogan "Lovers of Israel support disengagement" participated in that very event.

It is not only in Eilat that wearers of orange who wish to protest against the expulsion of 10,000 people from their homes have become an object of harassment. Yoav Gal, a senior pilot in the reserves, was detained in Jerusalem because he was flying an orange flag on his car. Oded Ronsky of the Yesha settlers' council, who was carrying information against the plan to uproot the settlers, was also detained. At the Weizmann Institute, they threatened to dismiss a worker who insisted on wearing an orange Magen David on his sleeve. Rivka Margolis, a police employee, was dismissed after sending her co-workers e-mail about the disengagement plan.

The media that rush to document every infringement of human rights and freedom of expression when Palestinians or leftists are involved shun their role when it comes to other forms of protest. Over the past few months they have simply acted like "the son who does not know how to ask questions."

There are so many questions that are possible and necessary to ask the prime minister in these times, but hardly anyone is doing so. Instead, we are witness to meetings between Sharon and the comedian Yatzpan or sickly-sweet reports of Sharon's happy life on the ranch with his grandchildren and how his daughter-in-law cooks his favorite foods. No one asks the difficult questions of the prime minister, and he obviously therefore does not respond - questions that in any normal country would be constantly on the public agenda.

One example: If the sacrifice being made by Sharon - the expulsion of 10,000 residents from their homes - is supposed to ensure the status of some 80 percent of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and their future annexation to Israel, how is it that only 57 percent of this population is within the security fence; and why does the U.S., with whom we have reached "agreements," have reservations about continued building even in the "blocs" and even in Ma'aleh Adumim about which there is supposedly consensus? What have we gained? Or, as Sharon would put it, what have we "saved"?

And other elementary questions: If the Palestinians are heading toward peace, why are they arming themselves so frantically? Why do they not disarm the terror organizations? For what do they require Strella missiles? And how can Israel allow Highway 443 and the areas overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport to be in Palestinian hands?

If at this time, when the Palestinians appear to have an interest in allowing the disengagement process to pass peacefully, they cannot or do not want to prevent the firing of dozens of mortar shells and Qassams, why should they want to do so, or be able to do so, when part of their desire - disengagement - has already been satisfied? Which areas and communities in Israel will be exposed after disengagement to triple-direction fire? Will Ashkelon, Afula or other population concentrations inside Israel then suffer what Gush Katif has suffered for the past four years?

The failure of Oslo has already proven that all the alternatives to intelligence from the field have been inferior. What kind of intelligence will we have after disengagement? And to what extent will we be able to thwart suicide bombings in our cities? If Israel plans to leave a military presence in northern Samaria, what is the logic behind evacuating settlements from there?

But disengagement apparently justifies the means, and the media are willing to be silent and ignore the phenomena of violence, gagging and preventing freedom of expression and protest, which would be inconceivable in normal times. The main thing is that everything should be quiet. We are disengaging.

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