As the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and the evacuation of Gush Katif, approaches, more and more protesters among the settlers are taking protest actions which are illegal. The stated intent is to show that they are strong, and can interrupt the lives of everyone else if the evacuation will go on. This isn’t about drawing attention to the problem, since public awareness is very high already. And the public discourse on the issue, whether one agrees to or not, has been going on for a long time, and is practically concluded.
That these people do not agree with the government decision is legitimate. Not everyone has to agree. This is why we have a democracy. As much as it is often not a very impressive one, and as badly as it may work, our democratic procedure do give people a way to express their opinions through voting. Elective government and all that. And the government has made the final decision to evacuate, and that’s pretty much that. There are proper channels for protest, by demonstrations, and by attempts to try and sway public opinion over the media. They did that, it didn’t work, the majority of the population is officially and overwhelmingly in favour, and this is what will happen. It happens all the time, on myriad subjects, and always some people agree more, and some less.
But they are not keeping a civil discourse, and accepting the final outcome. If people don’t agree with the decisions of the government, they can try to change the decision by voting on the next election (Which in this case may seem impossible since it’s not a reversible decision, but they had this option on the last election), they can grumble but live with it (which many people, myself included, do all the time with laws and decisions we don’t like. This is what democratic compromise means), or they can leave the country. Barring that, one can try and make a revolution to throw away the oppressive regime, but we’re not exactly living under an oppressive regime, and there is certainly not nearly enough unrest in the public to even come close. All to say, they should live with it.
Instead they go with force and scare tactics. A few hundreds of people went and blocked major roads and highways. Creating traffic jams, and generally pissing everyone off. Those that the police caught got arrested, but the police is dealing with it badly. Many teenagers were involved, and got arrested. Some of them where left there by their proud (no sarcasm here, unfortunately) parents who didn’t come to bail them out.
Some of them refuse to identify themselves, which is a point I don’t get. How can the police fail to identify them? Nowadays, with a wealth of available private information and personal records, they really should be able to. Maybe not immediately, but certainly after a couple of weeks. By the same logic and treatment, anyone who get arrested can refuse to provide their details, and the police will never be able to get them tried, or properly process them. There has to be a procedure for that, and in this case why isn’t it used?
And the way that the police, or government are handling this, is all wrong. They are giving them special treatment over any other criminals, and not just by providing a special lock-up.
Many of the arrested kids where at the time needing to take their Bagrut exams (state issued examination by the Department of Education, supposed to grade people after finishing high school, and is a requirement for university admission), for example, which of course could not be done without them identifying themselves. So after formal declarations that they will not be able to take the exams anonymously (how could they possibly?! Who will get the grade?! Why did this take a special announcement by the Education Minister?) some of the kids agreed to divulge their details so that they will be allowed to take the exams. And they were examined in the holding cells. This is another very special treatment, since a similar kid who for example would have burned a table at school and kicked a teacher, because he got a bad grade for example, would have also been arrested, but not allowed to take the exam in prison. This is practically unheard of, I think, to provide arrested criminals special opportunity to take the Bagrut exams. If they committed a crime, and have the misfortune of being in jail, they should take the next exam date, just like everyone else who misses it.
Instead, they are put in comfortable cells with a bunch of their friends, and are allowed to have fun. Some deterrent, is it? This works so great as a deterrent, that other protesters are doing other annoying and illegal stuff, not caring if they’ll get arrested. Worse, sometime they don’t. I was recently talking with a co-worker who said she passed next to the courthouse in Tel-Aviv, and a bunch of 15-20 girls where there making a lot of sound with loud whistles, giving headache to everyone around, and seriously disturbing the peace. And 10 cops stood there, just looking at them. Now, I know that there are laws against things like disturbing the peace at public places, so why did all that excessive police manpower just observed, and not arrest those girls?
According to that same co-worker of mine, this is because they are not afraid of getting arrested, they don’t see it as a punishment, and so there is nothing that can be done to them. So first, the arrest conditions may need to be slightly less cosy and fun. Second, this should not, and cannot, be a criteria. What if instead of whistling, or blocking roads, people will come with crowbars and start breaking store fronts in commercial districts, or private houses? Would they be politely ignored because they don’t mind getting arrested? To take it to an overly-large extreme, should you let a murdered go free if he’s a fanatic who likes spending time in jail?
They claim that blocking roads isn’t such a big crime. Certainly they will be (or pretend to be) appalled by the comparison to breaking houses and trashing stores. But the comparison isn’t off at all. If you block a large road, you cost a lot of money. Starting with the relatively minor extra gas and car wear of the people standing, which isn’t so minor on a big road. But also with the time lost. Time is money. People had things to do with that time, which most (all?) of them prefer to do, and need to do, more than standing in a traffic jam. So they didn’t do something, which was more productive to them, or more productive in general. Right there is a substantial economic damage to blocking roads. Sure, most individuals aren’t as badly hurt as a store owner coming to find he lost his entire stock to vandalism (unless maybe someone was held in an ambulance along the way? Rare, but happens sometime, and you can’t know in advance), but the overall damage is larger, since it effect a lot more people directly, and a lot more indirectly.
Taking this thought further, this is plain terrorism. Sure, they don’t try to explicitly kill anyone. But they do try to mess up people’s lives, and to cause property damage. Let’s say it’s like the nice terrorist who will actually call and tell everyone they need to evacuate the building, before triggering the explosives they planted. Heck, some of the leaders of these protesters explicitly said, on public media, that they do that so people will know there will be a price to pay if they are evacuated, that they could cause a lot more damage, and that they won’t hesitate to. It’s a textbook example of terrorism, and it’s criminal and illegal even if it wasn’t.
And today on the newspaper I saw that a rabbi said that blocking roads for the anti-disengagement cause is like saving lives, it has to be done, and people should do it. This is certain to make religious people who follow that rabbi seriously consider doing so. Which mean that the rabbi has explicitly told people to break the law. Yet I didn’t read that anyone tried to arrest him for that. If I went and told people to go to malls and break the stores’ windows, and people were listening to me, I’d get arrested, and rightfully so. Why isn’t he? If what he’s doing is legal (Not that I can see how, but I’m not the authority) it’s for the judge to decide at the trial, not the police. Special, and preferential, treatment again.
Overall, as you can probably guess by this rambling, I’m pissed off by these protesters, and by the treatment they’re getting. There was a decision, the issue is no longer open, it’s done, closed, finished. They fought with the tools they can use, and they lost. Happens to everyone in any democratic society all the time. They should live with it, and be done with it. Not start to break the law, and try to reign terror. They should grow up, and act like responsible people instead of little criminal kids.
And this isn’t a political view caused by me not agreeing with them. Suppose the decision was the reverse, and there was no evacuation. These people are not unlike potential protesters who would have decided that the evacuation is necessary, and they have to force people to do it. So they could have maybe blocked the roads into the settlements, reasoning that without any supply and trade they will have to abandon them. Maybe they would enter the settlements, and burn down houses of settlers there. After all once all the houses are burned, they’ll have to leave. Sounds far-fetched? Maybe, but it’s the exact same sort of the behaviour, with nearly the exact same reasons. And if that happened, I would object just as much about these people. I would object as much about anyone using these tactics and methods here, regardless of their cause and what I think about it. But the settlers who do these protests now? They think what they’re doing is right, but they’ll surely object the same tactics if used by those imaginary protesters in this imaginary case. Even if those imaginary protesters are trying in full earnest, like the real ones say they are, to save the country.