It’s time for civil disobedience

I was questioned under caution! Not in gloomy cellar, without blinding projectors like in movies, without Shin Bet.

Beit Hanina demolition (photo credit: Meir Margalit)
Beit Hanina demolition
(photo credit: Meir Margalit)
I was questioned under caution! Not in a gloomy cellar, without blinding projectors like in the movies, and without Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators who shouted and caressed alternately.
The questioning was conducted by officials from the Interior Ministry’s Construction Inspection Unit in Jerusalem. The suspicion – “illegal construction” that I allegedly carried out in east Jerusalem, and on more than one occasion.
I was reasonably treated, and was even offered a drink, but it was a charged situation – such construction is a criminal offense. In the corridors of the Interior Ministry’s Construction Inspection Unit in Jerusalem are quite a few officials who consider me a thorn in their side, and who deeply long to convict me of criminal offenses. I arrived for questioning with some curiosity that remained unsatisfied, because ultimately I couldn’t say if I got polite treatment because I’m a “public figure,” or whether Palestinians summoned questioning are similarly treated.
Whatever the case, I’m accused of direct involvement in illegal construction in east Jerusalem, of buildings that had previously been demolished by the Interior Ministry due to the lack of a permit. The investigation’s goal was to assemble a case that the attorney- general will file against me at some point.
I knew it was coming. For years I’ve been active in the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and involved in rebuilding homes that the state demolishes. The number of buildings that we’ve helped rebuild is countless, both inside Israel’s borders and in the Occupied Territories.
What’s certain is that in the 15 years of ICAHD’s existence the number of buildings exceeds a thousand. We never concealed our activities, or acted like an “underground” movement.
Nor did we hide behind false presentations like Gush Emunim’s “archaeological camp.”
We always acted openly, uprightly, and not for philanthropic reasons.
We are motivated by a combination of political, conscience- led considerations to express our civil disobedience against a phenomenon we consider an act of oppression, and our absolute denial of Israel’s right to demolish homes in the Occupied Territories.
A succession of Israeli governments have pushed the peace camp to the margins, and now moral people must make conscience- driven decisions. Seeing the massive and daily trampling of human rights in the Occupied Territories, we needed more than demonstrations which, while permitted, are devoid of power, and largely became efforts to let off steam but not much more.
The state crosses red lines daily, having lost the little shame it once had, ever since pathetic figures like Liberman and his ilk came to power. In the current patently immoral situation, people of conscience must take an active position. As the saying goes: “when people disappear, you must be a human being,” and we try to stay human in circumstances when humanity is becoming a rare item.
At this time when a black flag flies over us, civil disobedience is the only option available to people of conscience, anywhere and in whatever sphere.
Each and every one must do their best to stand up and say “no more.” There are things that a decent person must refuse to do, and rules that moral individuals must break even when they’re liable to pay the price.
Indeed, civil disobedience actions are performed every day – activists who enter areas of the Palestinian Authority that Israelis are forbidden to enter and meet Palestinian peace activists; youngsters who refuse military service on grounds of conscience; women who bring Palestinian girls to Israel to see for once in their lives what “the sea really looks like”; former combatants who break their silence and report on the army’s violence in the Territories; and a range of actions designed to erode the occupation’s foundations from within.
In his book The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi writes – “Some are surprised by the occupiers’ violence against those who endanger the occupation because opponents of the occupation threaten all the values it purports to represent.”
And that explains exactly what underlies the McCarthyist campaign now being waged against us.
Facing the indifferent establishment that knows no limits, sane people have formed a movement that is digging beneath the occupation’s foundations and damaging the legitimacy it ascribes to itself.
Against the trampling of human rights throughout Israel, the answer is non-compliance.
When the country demands discipline, we refuse to be disciplined, and state out loud our refusal to show loyalty to a state that acts in this way. That is how we retain our humanity.
Historians will one day be able to say that in dark days, when Israel acted like the worst countries in the world, there was a handful of activists who went against the current, stayed sane and saved it from ruin.
And that’s how we’ll prepare the ground for better times, because the murky right-wing wave will not endure. When it declines, we can raise our heads and rebuild the ruins left by the rampaging Right. And by the way – we didn’t invent this – the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah said so long before us.
The writer, who has a PhD and was active in the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, is a member of the Jerusalem City Council for Meretz and currently holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the municipality. He was recently interrogated by the Ministry of Interior for re-building demolished houses for Palestinians in east Jerusalem without a license.