Our next guest is a testimony to not giving up. Even in the theatre of the absurd, the Israeli justice system in which he labours on behalf of Israelis of Palestinian descent and Palestinians controlled by Israeli rule. A lawyer who works for Adalah (Arabic for Justice), Sari Arraf, tells us the organization was formed in the heady days of the Oslo Accords, when Two States were on the horizon and legal attention needed to be paid to the socio/economic rights of Palestinians in Israel. Palestine was forming, what of Palestinians here?
“Since,” he says, “the ‘fog’ of Oslo has cleared, we have taken up the socio-economic rights of Palestinians who are controlled by the government of Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Then he took us on a bit of a history tour. I’m not sure what you know so I’ll try to cover it as best I can, paraphrasing his words, adding some of my explanations. Mistakes are mine. He is articulate, intelligent, committed and very knowledgeable. You can meet him on their website if you like.
The legal basis for the Occupations (there have been many) in Israel stem out of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), the day of terror, when Palestinians fled their homes in great numbers, ahead of an advancing Israeli Military that was rumoured to be willing to massacre villagers, remove the local population and replace it with people of Jewish heritage. Seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians left their villages. Some to adjacent towns in Palestine and what is now called Israel (although current borders were negotiated under the Oslo Accord and Israel has said it does not respect those borders so one assumes it could go back to 1948 or some other lines), some to neighbouring states.
When the new government of Israel began a process of legalizing the results of the Nakba, passing legislation resulting in the takeover of land and other assets (including bank accounts in foreign banks) ‘abandoned’ by Palestinians, it began, he told us, a process that has never ended.
“It is wrong to fix the Nakba at a point in time. It is ongoing, it continues.” The aim and objective of Israeli legislation and court rulings is to take Palestinian lands, to make conditions so uncomfortable that Palestinians will have no other option but to move. Beginning with laws taking over ‘abandoned’ land, the government passed ‘regularization’ laws in 1953 (for Israel) and in 2017 (for Palestine) that retroactively legalized land taken for Israeli settlements. Other legal processes allow the government to confiscate land for use as “green zones” or military firing ranges, later given over to settlements.
In Israel, where people of Palestinian descent are a minority, he tells us “It is hard to speak of being a minority without a conversation about the majority. Who they are, how they got there. How they continue.”
One of the strategies of continuation is segregation. Segregation of Palestinians from Israelis is a given, but also separation of Palestinians from Palestinians. Different categories are created. Government policy never speaks of Israeli Palestinians, rather of Muslims, or Christians, or Mizrahi Jews. The Israeli ministry of education determines the study documents for children in Palestinian schools in Israel (Jewish children have their own schools). They contain no sense of the beauty of the language, the gifts of their heritage, the history of the people on the land. Segregating the people from their stories.
In the Negev (part of Israel), Bedouins are segregated again. Each village pushed hard, especially the 50 or so that Israel has declared to be unrecognized, illegal villages. After court cases from Adalah and other organizations they have won the right to ‘humanitarian’ amounts of water. One hookup for every 500 people. Four in a village of 2100. One man collects the money and pays the bill. If he doesn’t all 500 are cut off.
We hear of years and years spent in court. Fighting small battle after small battle. Counting victory in a school built after 7 years trying, then working on water, power, equipment, material and teachers. Each a battle on its own.
“The law,” he tells us, “will not change anything. I used to think it could, but it cannot. Not when those in power make the laws and form the courts.” He almost stopped practicing but came back to Israel to do this work when he realized that the small victories, water restored for 500 people, a school here, a road there, a bit more infrastructure funding (80% of the poorest, least funded communities in Israel are Palestinian), a nudge here and there were important for the people on the ground. The ones trying to live their everyday lives in the face of a cruel system that he says is,
“…harsh, but not arbitrary. It is designed to continue the Nakba, to drive the people from the land.”
It is not entirely futile, cases filed and documentation gathered, stories told are presented to the international courts as evidence of the ongoing Nakba. More tomes in the evidence before us. The law becomes a tool in the socio/economic struggle for justice.
Asked if the Israeli courts care about international laws, he says they do, “They just interpret them entirely out of context.”
He tells us about a case in which a young boy was shot by an Israeli soldier, on his way home in Gaza, to a house close to the fence. Thousands are shot in Gaza. He became a quadriplegic and his family decided to sue Israel for the cost of his care. The courts threw out the case, the Knesset had passed a law saying the Israeli military was not liable for anything it did in an enemy state.
“How can Gaza be an enemy state? It is absurd, it is totally controlled by Israel.” He tells us the court had thrown out a similar law, absolving the military of responsibility for actions on the West Bank two years ago.
“But they changed two words. They think that’s enough. We are going to take that one to the Supreme Court too.”
Perhaps they will win.
Who will give that boy his limbs back?
soldier her peace of soul?