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Leaving humanity behind

By Gideon Levy Sunday, July 29, 2001

In his wretched hovel in the Jelazoun refugee camp, Jihad Abu Rabia passes empty days, shorn of hope. He is 17 years old, paralyzed, incontinent and cannot speak. A Border Policeman shot him in the head three years ago as he ran, in the wake of a stone-throwing incident in which he probably didn't take part. His father cleans houses, his mother works serving tea. Their home is one of the poorest in the camp. They can barely afford to buy diapers for their son, and medical care is out of the question. Jihad somehow moves himself from room to room, constantly wheezing.

A suit filed by the family against the state seeking compensation for the shooting has been dragging on for more than two years. The representative of the State Attorney's Office called the suit dishonest and claimed the child and his parents were to blame for what happened. A decision in the case does not appear likely anytime soon.

Jihad at least was still able to file a suit. Soon, this route is liable to be closed to other invalids who were injured in the current Intifada even though they did no wrong. The justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, who occasionally succeeds in signifying himself as an enlightened individual (he opposed the legalization of torture, for example) is now working with a puzzling intensity to speed up the process in which a law will be enacted that will make it impossible for Palestinians who were hurt in the Intifada to file suits against the state.

Two weeks ago the ministerial committee on legislation approved the application of the law of continuity on the "Intifada Law" bill (which passed its first reading in 1997), paving the way for its second and final readings; and last week the defense establishment announced that it would not pay any additional damages claims of any kind.

As in many other cases, the defense establishment and the justice establishment are striding hand in hand toward a further moral deterioration. Combined with the fact that in the current Intifada, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) rarely investigates cases of death caused by its personnel - as of May there were only four instances of such investigations - a dangerous situation has been created in which soldiers are given almost free license. The troops kill and wound Palestinians, in some cases wrongly, but the IDF doesn't investigate, no one is brought to trial, and now there will be no compensation for the victims, either.

If things proceed according to the will of the defense establishment, the law will be brought for its second and third readings at the next session of the Knesset, and if passed it will put an end to the "dishonest" claims. Who will then be able to look into the eyes of the surviving relatives of Fatma Abu Jish, who worked as a clerk in a Nablus hospital, and who in January of this year was traveling via a dirt road in her car from her besieged village to her job when she was shot and killed by a soldier, for no good reason? Don't they deserve at least financial compensation for the ease with which the soldier, acting in the name of the state, opened fire?

The bereaved father of Mohammed el-Dura, the boy who was shot to death as the television cameras rolled, will not be able to claim compensation. Nor will the relatives of Aziza Danoun and Rahma Shahiyou, who were killed in the missile attack that assassinated Fatah man Hussein Abayat eight months ago. Mai Tmeizi, a 16-year-old girl who was wounded and widowed in the shooting attack at Idna on July 19, and Rima Tmeizi, who lost Dia, her three-month-old infant girl, will not be compensated. They are not "victims of hostilities." Under Israeli law, hostilities are recognized only if they are Palestinian, and their victims are recognized as such only if they are Jews.

It's no accident that the enactment of the "Intifada Law" has been dragging on for nine years, since the idea was first raised: even its sponsors now realize how problematic it is, from the juridical and moral aspects. True, three prime ministers - Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu - had no problem supporting the legislation, and a justice minister from the Likud, Tzachi Hanegbi, pressed for the law with great enthusiasm. However, his successor, Yossi Beilin, branded the bill "unconstitutional" and suspended all the legislative processes relating to it.

During that entire period the defense establishment never stopped warning against a wave of Palestinian claims that would run into "billions of shekels," bring the judicial system to a halt and threaten to undermine the country's economy. In practice, some NIS 250 million has been paid out to date - and whether that's considered a high or a low figure, it's part of the price of the occupation.

Other reasons that were adduced in connection with the bill were far more ludicrous. The defense establishment warned of a vast scam that would be perpetrated by the Palestinians. "The prosecution lawyer brings his witnesses into the courtroom and comes equipped with fabricated authorizations, while the Defense Ministry is totally unable to cope with the claims because of the large turnover of forces in Judea and Samaria," the head of the Defense Ministry's Administration and Property Department said in all seriousness.

In practice, the majority of the claims were rejected by the courts - in 1997, for example, 82 percent of the claims were rejected. The sponsors of the legislation, headed by the justice minister, are thus skeptical about the qualifications of the judges to distinguish between valid and invalid claims.

In October, the Knesset will undoubtedly pass the new, shameful law. Israel, which bears responsibility for the security of the residents in the occupied territories, will then once and for all divest itself of that legal and moral responsibility. In 1997, attorney Gilad Sher, who was afterward the head of the Israeli negotiating team in the talks with the Palestinians under the government of Ehud Barak, wrote: "This is one of the most shocking pieces of legislation ever sponsored by an Israeli government ... It's a fine reflection of the character of the Jewish state at the end of the 20th century: first of all money and then, afterward, if at all, humanity and all the rest." Last week there was no one to speak out against the law.

"When a Jew, in America or in South Africa, talks to his Jewish companions about 'our' government, he means the government of Israel."

- David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister

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