Definition of “sovereignty”: Supreme power or authority; the authority of a state to govern itself; complete power to govern a country; the state of being a country with freedom to govern itself

– The Oxford Dictionary

Our hope – a hope 2,000 years old – will not be lost: To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem
– From the national anthem, “Hatikva”

You can take the Jews out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the Jews
– A disparaging dictum of uncertain origins

Just over a year ago, I wrote a column in this series titled “Surrendering sovereignty” (December 2, 2011), which I commenced with very similar introductory excerpts.

Mughrabi fiasco

In it, I severely criticized the government’s reversal of its decision to replace the Mughrabi Bridge, linking the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

The wooden bridge, built in 2007, which provides the only access for non- Muslims to the Temple Mount complex, and was always intended to be a temporary structure, was deemed to be in a state of dangerous disrepair in 2011.

However, when confronted by shrill and wildly unfounded accusations from various Islamic sources that the construction of a new, permanent and structurally safe bridge was intended to cause the collapse of the Dome of the Rock (almost half a kilometer away from the planned ramp), together with threats of violence in Israel, and warnings of instability in various Arab states, the government backed down.

The following is from that article: “It is easy to downplay the significance of the decision; to present it as giving precedence to prudence over pride. That would be a mistake.

“For it is yet another symptom of the insidious spread of an ongoing malaise, gnawing away at the foundations of the Jewish national ethos. It is a malaise that if not soon confronted, will have perilously corrosive consequences... By its actions... the government has in effect conferred the status of force majeure on Muslim rage – an inevitable force of nature which can only be avoided by Israeli capitulation...”

Still-virulent malaise

This week we were given – by means of a seemingly minor event – a disturbing reminder that this malignant malaise is just as virulent as ever.

This was the announcement on Wednesday to the Knesset by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch that Israel is contemplating the participation of an international investigator in the inquest regarding Arafat Jaradat, the Palestinian detainee, who died in Israeli custody, after being arrested for hurling stones and a Molotov cocktail at Israeli troops.

What made this announcement even more troubling was the fact that it was made a matter of hours after The Jerusalem Post reported that “Israeli officials dismissed on Tuesday a Palestinian Authority demand for an international inquiry into the death of Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat as a ‘predictable’ maneuver and part of a larger strategy to bring the international community into the conflict whenever possible.”

It is difficult to see how Aharonovitch’s statement cannot be interpreted as hasty Israeli capitulation to Mahmoud Abbas’s strident demand, issued at the the PLO Executive Committee meeting in Ramallah on Tuesday, “for an international commission of inquiry to find out how Jaradat was assassinated in prison.”

While many agree that the affable Aharonovitch is perhaps not the sharpest knife in the governmental drawer, he is nevertheless a minister responsible for a vitally important sphere of state activity that impinges on the lives of the entire population.

It is more than a little disconcerting that he apparently has such a poor grasp of the basic do’s and don’ts entailed in the exercise of national sovereignty.

Demeaning disregard

For whether intentional or not, Aharonovitch’s announcement can only – and inevitably will – be seen as a clear expression of no-confidence in the competence and integrity of the Israeli authorities to investigate misdeeds allegedly committed by official organs of the state.

Whether he meant it or not, it will be seen as endorsing those who wish to cast the gravest aspersions on Israel and its credibility.

In so doing he has – unwittingly or otherwise – shown disrespect and disregard for the professional capabilities and the moral standing of his country, implying that it cannot be trusted without outside supervision. The unbecoming alacrity with which he embraced the Palestinian demands makes him – willfully or not – complicit with the efforts of Israel’s most hostile adversaries’ efforts to demean, demonize and delegitimize it.

It seems to indicate that even after almost seven decades of political independence, the Jewish people has not managed to internalize the cognizance of the inalienable rights that accrue to, and the indispensable duties that are demanded of, a people who wish to maintain and administer their national sovereignty.

Patently preposterous

It is patently preposterous to suggest that Israel is not capable of conducting a credible inquiry into the Jarafat incident without international accompaniment.

More than any other country, Israel has proved itself able to conduct exceedingly – some might say, excessively – harsh investigations into allegations of malfeasance perpetrated by official organizations and individuals – no matter how prominent or senior.

Defense minister Ariel Sharon was forced from office (1983) by the all-Israeli Kahan Commission’s inquiry into the events relating to massacres conducted by Christian Phalangist forces in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatilla.

The head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Avraham Shalom, along with several other senior members of the organization, was dismissed following the killing of two terrorists (1984), belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine after their attempt to hijack a busload of civilians was foiled. True, the investigation process was torturous and flawed, and some might find the presidential pardons granted those involved questionable (although they were upheld by the High Court), but the truth regarding the events was largely exposed without any international intervention.

Finance minister Avraham Hirchson was convicted (2008) and imprisoned for embezzlement. One year earlier, justice minister Haim Ramon was convicted for sexual misconduct. In 2010, Tzachi Hanegbi, who held numerous important ministerial and parliamentary positions, was convicted of perjury. The president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, was tried and convicted (2011) for sexual transgressions, including rape, and is serving a sevenyear sentence.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert was forced to step down following a series of charges brought against him. He was convicted of breach of trust (2012) and is facing additional bribery charges.

Perilous precedent

So while there might be those who feel that the punitive measures handed out in the above-mentioned incidents were not sufficiently severe (and others that they were overly severe), Israel has proved itself willing to pursue investigations/inquiries into claims of any wrongdoing, no matter how senior the alleged perpetrator or how embarrassing/ damaging the alleged transgressions.

I do not know if anything untoward occurred during Jaradat’s incarceration or what in fact led to his demise. However, based on precedent, there can be little doubt that whatever (if any) penalties are eventually meted out, an all-Israeli inquiry will ferret out the truth.

Israel need take no lessons from anyone in investigating suspicions of malfeasance by any organizational entity or individual. Accordingly, the Palestinian demand for international intervention into the Jaradat affair is not a genuine quest for the facts but – much like the ludicrous Turkish demand for an apology over the Mavi Maramra affair – little more than a transparent attempt to show that it can coerce Israel to submit to its will.

This is precisely why Aharonovitch’s inappropriately accommodating declaration entails potentially perilous consequences.

Indeed, it could open up a veritable floodgate of initiatives, aimed at neutralizing any autonomy in Israeli decision- making, investigation and inquiry.

License to second guess

In effect, it could comprise a license for any alien entity to second-guess every decision taken or conclusion drawn by Israeli authorities. For if international participation is called for to accompany the Jaradat affair, why should it not be called on for every other investigation? And if Israeli decisions or verdicts are not sufficient to satisfy foreigners, why should they be so for Israelis? Why should any Israeli citizen, who sees him/herself wronged by some judicial or administrative decision taken by an Israeli institution, not demand that it be reviewed by some international entity to ensure its credibility/fairness? Aharonovitch may have – inadvertently or otherwise – sown the seeds of an “ethos of expectation” in which continual Israeli concessions and compliance with the demands of others – no matter how outlandish – become the norm, from which no divergence is to be brooked.

Let’s not forget the context


The death of Arafat Jaradat should be fully and fairly investigated. Any improper conduct toward the unfortunate detainee must he unflinchingly addressed. However, in doing so, we should not lose sight of the context.

While we might well sympathize with his young children, who lost their father, he was after all, according to numerous sources including the BBC and Al Jazeera, a member of the murderous Al-Aksa Brigades, which have chalked up a long and chilling list of bloody atrocities in which many Israeli civilians were butchered.

The acts he was arrested for are grave.

Stones are lethal weapons. Molotov cocktails indisputably are. Both can – and have – killed Israelis. Hurling them at soldiers should not be lightly dismissed.

Indeed, it should be considered an act of attempted homicide. The ineffectiveness of the attempt should not be a mitigating factor in assessing the gravity of the intent.

Those involved in such activities should expect to be treated harshly, perhaps even to sustain injuries when being apprehended. In such circumstances, Israel has every reason to doubt the impartiality of international participants – even under the assumption that they may have no inherent bias against it. For example, foreign media representatives have been threatened with physical retribution for disclosing the truth – as witnessed by the fate of journalists who dared to attempt recording the brutal lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah (2000).

Talkbackers get what government doesn’t

While the government seems oblivious to the impact its response to the demands in the Jadarat affair could have on the nation’s sovereign status, the same certainly cannot be said of the general public or at least segments thereof – such as readers of the Post.

Consider the reaction by some talkbackers to the report on Aharonovitch’s announcement, who with variable degrees of courtesy, finesse and grammatical rigor, expressed the follow astute perspectives:

Frank Adam: “Israel will have submitted to the Arab aim to prove Israel [has] only partial or limited sovereignty.”

Boris: “israel needs to stop being so insecure. if it wants to survive. it needs to stop having something to prove. like its right to exist”

Evil Zionist: “It will be a dangerous precedent and undermine our sovereignty”

iCry: “Next experts will need to be called in to “prove” Israel didn’t poison the original Arafat.... Arabs can make Israel jump like a trained seal.”

And finally, NormanF: “The Israeli government’s default mode is to surrender to Arab blackmail, threats and intimidation. It can’t say “no” and uphold Jewish sovereignty... Any other country on earth would never accept for themselves the “international observer” nonsense Aharonovitch peddled before the Knesset. It would reject outright all attempts to compromise its independence. What his statement proved again in the face of escalating global anti-Semitism, is that its easy to take the Jew out of the ghetto but its very difficult to take the ghetto out of the Jew!”

The hallmark of good diplomacy

I found it difficult to disagree.

Until the leaders of the Jewish state realize that the litmus test of good diplomacy is not to get the world to applaud your compliancy and capitulation, but to accept your pursuit of national interests and imperatives, we will not be able to say we have truly extricated ourselves from the clutches of the ghetto mentality.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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