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Opposing Olmert On Golan Surrender: Civil Disobedience As A Legal Imperative (Second of Two Parts)


Beres-Louis-Rene

Can the Olmert government protect Israel’s citizens? After last summer’s Lebanon war, this is hardly a serious question. Further, following Iran’s continuing defiance of the international community in its illegal nuclearization, a defiance carried out with literal impunity, the consequences of Israel’s national impotence could soon be genuinely existential. Let us be candid. This is the case even before Mr. Olmert proceeds with his plan to give up the Golan.

Credo quia absurdum. Prime Minister Olmert now further endangers Israel’s survival by his openly planned acquiescence to Syrian deceptions on the Golan Heights. Not only a 1967 report by the American Joint Chiefs, but also the authoritative words of four distinguished Israeli (res.) generals, challenge the Prime Minister’s mistaken judgment: “Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights constitutes the optimal strategic balance with Syria and insurance against a massive Syrian attack,” said these Israeli strategists in 1995. “The IDF’s proximity to Damascus is also a guarantee against a Syrian missile launch into Israel’s rear. Any change in this balance would lessen Israel’s deterrent against potential Syrian aggression and jeopardize the quiet and stability that have characterized the Golan since 1974.”1

It is with precisely these grave dangers in mind that Israeli opponents of Olmert’s intended Golan surrenders will soon engage in purposeful civil disobedience. Recognizing that victimization by words2 can set the stage for subsequent victimization by force, they shall seek, perhaps desperately, to “stop the machine.” From the standpoints of both law and national survival, they will certainly be acting correctly.

To “stop the machine” is a metaphoric phrase taken directly from Henry David Thoreau’s classical explorations of civil disobedience. In his oft-quoted essay on the subject, the American transcendentalist spoke persuasively of essential opposition as an act of “counter friction.” Confronted with dreadful harms of the sort suffered and anticipated by so many Israelis, harms generated by years of now-President Peres’ “Peace Process,” and soon-to-be magnified by Prime Minister Olmert’s additional surrenders, he would urge, as he once did about policy deformations in this country: “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

This is what Israel’s citizen protestors must now seek, not to lend themselves any longer to the unforgivable wrongs of the Rabin/Peres/Netanyahu/Barak/Sharon/Olmert agreements with the PLO/PA, or to any future Golan surrender to Syria. Among these many wrongs are assorted Israeli government legitimizations of Arab terrorism, and also corollary Israeli government refusals to punish egregious terrorist crimes. Israel and the fractionated Palestinian authority have not only effectively abandoned all pertinent jurisprudential obligations to seek out and prosecute Arab terrorists, they still cooperate in releasing killers of Israeli citizens from Israeli and Arab jails. Certainly Prime Minister Olmert and President Peres will not be willing to put an end to such incontestable violations of both Jewish Law and international law. Why should they? Crouched comfortably in the bruising darkness, their truth is the delusion of Plato’s cave. They see not what is happening right before their eyes, but only the shadows of what is real.

Let us return to germane matters of law. Israel’s agreements with the PLO contravene the binding obligation to punish acts that are crimes under international law. Known formally as Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” this requirement points unambiguously to the multiple acts of killing and torture ordered directly by “elected” Palestinian authorities over many years. To not only ignore this peremptory requirement, but also to further legitimize the wrongs by making these criminals a “partner for peace” has been a clear violation of Principle I of the binding Nuremberg Principles.3

Israel’s citizens, who now support and sustain the discredited Oslo/Road Map agreements, and/or Prime Minister Olmert’s intended Golan surrenders, are acting (whether expressly or tacitly) in stark violation of fundamental international law. They are also acting, of course, in violation of Israel’s national law and longstanding Jewish Law. At the same time, all those who would disobey both these suicidal agreements with terrorist gangs, and the still-intended Golan surrenders would be acting in full support of all three interrelated forms of law.

My readers in The Jewish Press will understand that these informed views of law and civil disobedience in Israel deserve a wide hearing. Now embarked upon surrender policies that threaten Israel’s very existence while they simultaneously undermine authoritative expectations of justice, the Olmert government should reasonably expect to be confronted with mounting protests. Were it not so confronted, citizens of Israel would have already consented to their own national dismemberment. International law, which is based upon a variety of higher law foundations, including Jewish Law, forms part of the law of all nations. This is the case whether or not the incorporation of international law into national law is codified, explicitly, as it is in the Supremacy Clause (Article VI) of the United States Constitution. The government of Israel is bound by settled norms of international law concerning punishment of terrorist crimes and physical survival of the state. Where this government would fail to abide by these rules, as is very much the case today, civil disobedience is not only permissible – it is required.

Jewish Law rests always upon two fundamental principles: the overriding sovereignty of G-d and the derivative sacredness of the individual person. Both principles, intertwined and interdependent, underlie the reasoned argument for civil disobedience in Israel.4 From the sacredness of the person, which stems from each individual’s resemblance to divinity, flows the freedom to choose. The failure to exercise this freedom, which is evident whenever a response to political authority is merely automatic, represents a betrayal of individual legal responsibility.5

We Jews must be reminded that Jewish law is democratic in the sense that it belongs to all of the people. This is a principle expressed in the Talmudic position that each individual can approach G-d in prayer without priestly intercessions. Hence, a primary goal of law must always be to encourage initiative, to act purposefully on behalf of improving both state and society. When this criterion is applied to impending instances of civil disobedience in Israel, it should be apparent that the protesting opponents of Olmert’s intended Golan surrender, more than any other citizens of Israel, will be acting according to the true interests of law, justice and peace. Let them now stand strong against an Israeli public authority that indefatigably patronizes itself.

Copyright ©, the Jewish Press, October 12, 2007. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israel’s security and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

* * * * *

1. Statement (1995) prepared by Major General (res.) Yehoshua Sagui; Admiral (res.) Micha Ram; Brigadier General (res.) David Hagoel; and Brigadier General (res.) Aharon Levran.

2. The Talmud instructs that victimizing people with words is a serious transgression (Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia 58b).

3. According to Principle I: “Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and is liable to punishment.”

4. On the importance of the dignity of the person to the Talmudic conception of law, see: S. Belkin, In His Image: The Jewish Philosophy Of Man As Expressed In Rabbinic Tradition (New York: 1960).

5. On the human freedom to choose good over evil, see: J.B. Soloveitchik, Thoughts And Visions: The Man Of Law (Hebrew: New York: 1944 – 45), p. 725.

About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


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