This is not our way

I wrote an article that I helped reconstruct demolished Palestinian homes out of civil disobedience.

Civil Disobedeience (photo credit: Nechama Rosenstein)
Civil Disobedeience
(photo credit: Nechama Rosenstein)
After the article by Melanie Lidman in The Jerusalem Post on April 30, stating that the Interior Ministry was accusing me of illegally constructing Palestinian homes demolished by the municipality, I wrote an op-ed that appeared on May 8. In it, I explained the motives underlying my behavior, and argued that it was a case of legitimate civil disobedience – required of any person with a conscience, when the state is conducting clearly immoral acts.
Several citizens, following my article, asked how could I sit on the city council and call for civil disobedience? How could a public figure call for breaking the law? And so on, in variations on the proverb of the “man spitting into the well from which he drinks” – with a stronger focus on the pitcher (myself) than what it contains.
The issue arising from the criticism concerns a major question in public policy – the relationship between “the law” and “ethics.” And I am sure that anyone who disliked my position is going to get angry again: I don’t sanctify either “the law,” or “the state.”
The state is not a value in itself, but no more (or less!) than an organizational framework for managing society, and the law is a set of rules planned to regulate relationships. The two of them – the state and the law – are “necessary evils,” logical and reasonable as long as there is an ideological alliance between the state, its laws and its citizens.
But that is not the case for me, or for many others. Over the years, the state has moved away from a humanistic worldview (some say it never had one). And now, when the nationalists are ruling, and have discarded all traces of morality, our commitment to the ruling norms has shrunk to the bare minimum – and not always that.
Let me choose between violating the law or helping in lawful ways, and I would unhesitatingly choose the latter. But when all lawful roads are blocked, and gatekeepers prevent me from doing my job lawfully, I will not act like the hero of Kafka’s “Before the Law” and wait until they let me in.
I will skirt around the law to help the people for whom I was elected. We are not original – the Orthodox have always said and done the same, and so have the settlers after Gush Katif’s evacuation. Now it is our turn to say: this is not our way, we do not subscribe to the injustices being performed here, the ways of the state are not ours, its values are not ours, and its acts in the territories are not in our name.
So I aim to undermine the occupation from within. For people with a conscience, it is more than a right – it is a duty.
We did not invent the method – Feiglin uses it in the Likud, and the religious Right runs pre-army programs to take control of the army from within. I would also like to place our youngsters in strategic positions, to change from within.
Anyway, I dispatched myself to the political front, without concealing my aims. Before I was elected, I said publicly that I take issue with a law allowing the demolition of homes of innocent families who built without permits because they had no choice. Abiding by the law is desirable, but not a supreme value.
We’re not talking about how legal a government action is, but how moral it is. In fact I never understood my friends who strongly disagree with outposts built on private land, as if they were less grave than those built on “state land.” They fell into the trap of the settlers – who distinguish between “illegal outposts” and settlements built with government approval, as if that makes them legitimate.
The law doesn’t legitimize acts of theft, or patently immoral actions. No law will stipulate for me what can and can not be done, but only standards of conscience that discriminate between good and evil – not between legal and illegal.
So it is strange when people ask why I’m ready to break the law for the sake of the public I represent – because that’s supposed to be the default situation of any public representative.
And now a little tip – beware of politicians over-attached to the language of the law: behind “those guardians of the rule of law,” hide little politicians unwilling to work hard for the public.
Politicians whose voters aren’t important enough to them use the law as a fig leaf.
City hall has lots of politicians who do the bare minimum. We are all familiar with draconian laws that deserve to be broken, but remain in force since we have a surplus of politicians who stick close to the law, but fewer genuine politicians.
To state the obvious: bad laws shouldn’t be complied with! And a law that permits the demolition of homes is not only a bad law, it’s a harmful law, a blot on Israeli society. I will work against this and violate this without hesitation, until someone wakes up.
It is amusing that criticism leveled against me comes from groups specializing in lawbreaking.
Supporters of Beit Yehonatan, Migron and Givat Ha’Ulpana should be the last to criticize me – or maybe the first to understand my position.
Indeed, there’s an apparent similarity between my position and those who freely violate court orders and build settlements on private land. But it’s only an external similarity.
Though we’re both willing to break the law, when it comes to purpose there’s a major difference between us.
They do it to redeem the land, while I’m working to promote peace. Purpose makes a difference and there’s a huge gap between the two goals – one stems from the religious/nationalistic sphere, the other originates in the moral/human sphere.
That creates two essentially different, even conflicting actions. “In that case, you can justify the hilltop youths,” critics say, and at the intellectual level I understand their efforts, but can never justify actions that I believe undermines peace.
A well-known broadcaster on a right-wing radio station called me a hypocrite when I said I didn’t justify the hilltop youths. He thinks that the youths and I operate the same way, but doesn’t grasp that there’s no correlation between the two actions.
It’s the purpose that makes the difference – not the external act of violating one law or another.
Indeed, I know that selectively respecting the law will cause chaos. It’s impossible to run a state when each citizen chooses which clause of the law to honor, and which not to. That’s what I am working towards.
Chaos would shatter the state – and afterwards it may be possible to rebuild it. What we have today cannot be repaired.
We aspire to dismantle the state, with the hope that something new and far better will result from it. Too bad about the spilled blood and the shattered dreams, but we will emerge stronger.
In parentheses – I’m no megalomaniac; I realize I can’t end the occupation but, as our rabbis said: “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
The writer is a member of the Jerusalem city council.