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Haaretz: “So much for another kind of olive harvest”

by Akiva Eldar, October 26th

Who remembers nowadays that Amir Peretz made dismantling illegal outposts a condition for Yisrael Beiteinu joining the government – with the agreement of the knight of law and order, Avigdor Lieberman? What became of Peretz’s vows to reexamine the separation fence route designed by a settler who the attorney general admits misled the High Court? Anyone interested in the fate of Palestinian olive grove owners will discover that, as far as they are concerned, Lieberman can move right into the Defense Minister’s Office.

Peretz’s celebratory promises that this year’s olive harvest would be different than those of past years are shattered daily at Israel Defense Forces checkpoints. Even the High Court injunction to permit farmers to work their land makes no impression on security forces.

Members of the Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights organization, who go out to the field every day, reported yesterday that the IDF had completely blocked access to groves in five West Bank villages. The IDF prevents farmers in three villages from entering their land on the west side of the separation fence. Another six villages were informed their lands had been closed or seized by the military. In at least one case, farmers were thrown off their land without being presented any orders at all. Farmers in 10 villages were ordered to harvest olives on specific dates and seek advance permission from security officials before entering their land.

According to the IDF spokesman, these orders were intended only to assure that farmers would coordinate their efforts with the IDF, and only dealt with the minimal tracts of land permitted in the High Court ruling. One brief hour after the spokesman responded, four thugs from Havat Gilead attacked olive harvesters from the village of Farata. None of the perpetrators were detained.

Peretz missed the opportunity to demand that, in return for Lieberman joining the government, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert grant a smidgeon of his promise to discuss the Syrian president’s threats to make peace – not to mention the Arab peace initiative. Peretz’s right to exist in the Defense Ministry rests on his (for now) determined stand on the Gaza Strip. Peretz remains the only solid obstacle preventing IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz from reoccupying it. One can readily find a hint of this in his statements this week regarding his lack of desire to grapple with a hypothetical dysentery outbreak in Gaza.

Someone apparently told Peretz that Halutz’s southern adventure would lead to the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority and grant responsibility for 1.3 million Palestinians to Israel. The Defense Ministry knows the statistics. Military administration in the territories would cost the Israeli taxpayer at least NIS 1 billion per month.

Peretz’s ability to restrain Halutz will depend on the number of Qassam rockets that fall on the defense minister’s hometown, Sderot, over the next few days. The number of Qassam missiles is directly connected to the number of Palestinians killed in IDF attacks.

Empowering Abbas

Amid the chaos that grips the territories, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has almost no influence on developing events. Olmert says Abbas is weak. Olmert is the only man in the world who can empower him. He can do this by handing the chairman – and only the chairman – thousands of aging, female and young prisoners. Tens of thousands of the prisoners’ relatives will impose a siege on Hamas offices in Gaza until Khaled Meshal orders Gilad Shalit returned home.

But Abbas concluded long ago that salvation would not come from Olmert. His most recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush convinced him that as long as Hamas is in power, America is lost to him. Even if Haniyeh sings “Hatikva,” Israel’s national anthem, in Rabin Square, the U.S. will cover its ears. The latest draft on a unity government that Hamas delivered to Qatar failed to receive even one line of international press, not to mention Israeli media notice.

Hamas failed, once again, to pronounce the word “Israel,” or declare (of course), “We recognize the State of Israel.” On the other hand, the document includes recognition of international law and a commitment to honor all agreements signed by the PA and Fatah, while demanding the rights and interests of the Palestinian people be guaranteed. Hamas also promises to employ legitimate means in the battle for ensuring Palestinian rights and ending the occupation. They differentiate these means from terror (some interpret this as a reference to Israeli terror). The document declares that the goal is bringing about the creation of a Palestinian state within territories occupied in 1967.

Yesterday, a baseless rumor was circulating that after the end of the Id al-Fitr holiday, the chairman would disband the government and announce the establishment of a temporary, technocrat government until the next elections. In these elections, parties that wish to run would be required to recognize previous agreements, including recognition of Israel, and denounce terror before the polls are opened. Just in case Hamas fails to accept these terms happily, the Americans have equipped Abbas’ Presidential Guard with their finest weapons and a lot of greenbacks.

The honor of the court

Piercing statements by Attorney Orit Koren, who is responsible for High Court appeals in the State Prosecutor’s Office, left no room for doubt. This violation of court orders is an extraordinary act that deserves an aggressive response.

“There is no need to describe the gravity of these acts committed in defiance of an interim order handed down by the honorable court,” wrote Koren regarding the behavior of the construction company.

She added that defiance of the order to cease building took place with no permit and contrary to the legal plan. If that is not enough, work to open the road at a building site in the Matityahu Mizrach settlement contradicts the plan created to rectify the original violation. The road crossed through two lots earmarked for residential units and another lot designated as open public space.

After all these harsh statements, one might assume the state prosecutor has decided to join Peace Now in requesting an immediate injunction to stop construction, return things to their former state and take action regarding this apparent contempt of court. Right? Not at all.

“Despite these statements, in light of humanitarian circumstances that have developed,” the prosecution writes, “there is reason to permit aspects of the plan to be completed over an interim period, ‘temporary preparations’ of the road.”

Koren explains that blocking public vehicles from using the only access route to the Heftziba Company’s housing complex will injure 80 needy (ultra-Orthodox) families that rely on public transportation to reach shopping centers and services in the veteran community of Modi’in Elite. One wonders if the sympathetic prosecutor would have shown the same consideration if Palestinians had built hundreds of residential units on Jewish land without permits and later defied a court order to stop construction.

Michael Sfard, the attorney for Peace Now who has been involved in settlement issues for years, says the prosecutor’s position is evidence that systematic tolerance of law violations is not the sole domain of settlers and politicians. Sfard warns that the prosecutor’s statements will be broadly quoted by those who build illegal outposts and annex land in the West Bank. He doubts the High Court has the authority to authorize a breach of law, as the prosecution requests.

Every request granted

Thousands of Palestinian families spent their holidays far from their parents and children. According to data from the statistics department of the PA Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, last June about 10,100 Palestinian prisoners, including 335 minors and 104 women, were being held in Israeli incarceration facilities and prisons. Some 369 prisoners have been held for more than 12 years. In other words, they were imprisoned before the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PA, and were not released after the Oslo Accords. Of these veteran prisoners, 45 have been held for more than 20 years, and seven of the 45 have been held for more than 25 years.

Most of the prisoners – 55 percent – were never tried or convicted. They might actually be considered kidnapped. Attorney Amit Gurewitz spent two days in military court at the Ofer military base. In the last issue of the journal “Hapraklitim,” (Prosecutors), published by the Tel Aviv Attorneys Association, he described how a state of law sends people to jail. Hundreds were detained on the same day. Every request to prosecute was granted. Not a single arrest failed to be extended.

Prisoners are led in groups of five to the cabin where the judge sits. Defendant Morad Yousef was detained half a year ago because he was suspected of throwing rocks in 2001. The prosecution has still not had the time to prepare an indictment. His attorney does not have firsthand knowledge of his “classified” case. The judge is also reading the case for the first time.

His attorney says, “He was not arrested immediately after incrimination. Thus, he is not dangerous and should be released.”

The judge does not respond. He tells the prosecution, “I examined the investigation and found the basis of evidence at this point.”

Next case: Rafat Salem Okat. The judge: “Just a minute, I will read the file … The prosecution may have difficulty supporting each risk separately but the entirety reveals a clear picture.” The attorney: “This is a classic case for dismissal.” The prosecution: “Risk of danger, risk of flight.” The judge extends the remand by another eight days. In another case the judge decides, “Because a problem makes it difficult to examine the defense attorney’s claims, the defendant will remain in custody until the resumption of the hearing.”

“It is possible to discuss the security situation and the justice of arrests,” writes Gurewitz, “But it is difficult and shameful to cloak this in the pretense of a ‘trial.'”