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Daoud Kuttab Headshot

Israeli Military Commander Acts As a Dictator Towards Palestinians

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There is a reason for the fact that in modern times laws are written by representatives of the people to whom these laws are applied. Governments and parliaments come and go, but laws often outlive them.

Except in dictatorships, laws are not written by the executives who have to enforce them or the judges that have to interpret them. Many totalitarian rulers create a symbolic legislature, made up of people's representatives so as to be able to carry this important task. Laws are certainly not written by foreign rulers, and for sure they are not written by foreign military rulers. Well, everywhere except in the occupied Palestinian territories.

When the Israeli army occupied Palestinian lands in 1967, the Israeli military commander issued an order giving himself the sole right to legislate for the people under his army's control. Military order #1 combined executive, legislative and judicial powers regarding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the hands of the Israeli military commander. Since then, thousands of laws have been issued by successive military commanders who single-handedly can amend existing laws or issue totally new laws without discussion, debate or even a public announcement. The orders are issued in Hebrew and the Palestinian public is by and large unaware of their existence.

The Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq began, in the 1980s, the hard work or translating and publishing these laws. One of the co-founders of Al Haq, Raja Shehadeh, wrote an entire book on the process of Israeli control that turns around the concept of the rule of law to rule by law. Shehadeh's book "Occupier's Law" has been praised by The Washington Post back in 2003 "as an invaluable resource that captures the rage and despair of lives stunted by occupation".

This long introduction is meant to highlight the Kafkaesque legal structure that Palestinians under occupation are subject to. They have an elected Palestinian parliament whose laws are argued by civilians coming from the communities where the laws are to be implemented. Local press and electronic media cover the debates, often publish draft laws and announce the agreement on these laws once voted on. Once these laws are signed by a president, they are published in the Official Gazette and have the power of laws that local Palestinian judges can enforce using local lightly armed police, on condition that they only serve the court decisions within areas A (the highly populated cities) of the Palestinian territories.

At the same time, the signature of a single military commander can make law that is enforceable in all Palestinian areas with the help of a powerful military army and its bands of intelligence officers and local collaborators. Such was the case on October 13, 2009, when Major General Gadi Shamni, commander of the Israeli army in the West Bank, redefined who is an infiltrator (anyone without a special Israeli-issued valid permit) and what the punishment of infiltration is: up to seven years in jail, NIS 3,500 ($1,000) and deportation.

To be fair, order number 1650 gave Palestinians six months to get their act in order. However, few Palestinians were even aware of this military order until an Israeli reporter quoted Israeli human rights organisations saying that the six months are to expire on April 13, putting tens of thousands of Palestinians in danger of imprisonment, fine and deportation.

Deportations are not new, of course, even though the Israelis have not been using them directly.

The Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem says that Palestinians from the occupied territories are deported pursuant to the authority of regulation 112 of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations, 1945. This regulation authorises the regional commander "to make an order under his hand, requiring any person to leave and remain out of Palestine".

The emergency regulations were called "Nazi" by Menachem Begin.

The regulation was rescinded within Israel in 1979, but remains in force in the occupied territories. According to B'tselem, from the beginning of the Israeli occupation, in 1967, to 1992, when Israel ceased deportations, 1,522 Palestinians were deported from the occupied territories. None of the deportees had been charged with a criminal offence, nor tried and convicted. By law, they must therefore be considered innocent of any offence.

While public deportation had stopped in 1992, a much more sinister plan was implemented, that of transfer, whereby Palestinians are "encouraged" to leave and not return by use of various administrative orders, such as this latest order. Ironically, this infiltration order does not apply to Jewish settlers who are indeed infiltrating into Palestinian territories, nor does it apply to Jewish settlers residing in the so called "outposts" that have not been even authorised officially by the occupying state of Israel.

In the Monday summit in Washington, His Majesty King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama agreed that both Israelis and Palestinians should avoid actions that undermine chances of reviving stalled peace talks, according to the White House.

In the past few months, we have seen clear evidence that Israel is undermining peace by building Jewish settlements in occupied territories, in defiance of the roadmap and commitments made to the US administration. Now the Israelis are showing that the original Zionist theory of lusting for the land, without its people, continues to be the main pillar of this right-wing Israeli government.

If Obama and his advisers are genuinely interested in this issue, they do not need to send an envoy all the way to the Middle East. Obama, his secretary of state or his national security adviser need only go across town in Washington, DC to get details. The man who had the power to make laws in the occupied territories and who signed military order 1650, Major General Shamni, has been the military attaché at the Israeli embassy since November.