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Haaretz: Welcome to year 41

By Michael Sfard

To view original article, published by Haaretz, click here

The military commander of the West Bank, Major General Gadi Shamni, is a busy man. He has a country to run, and he has no separation of powers to worry about. He is at once legislator, judge, and director general of his little government that comprises his minister-officers aged 20-something.

Only a small portion of his activities are known to the public, because running occupied territory includes countless daily decisions, instructions and actions. The following are some examples of his recent activities.

One day the commander declared war on the handicapped of Qalqilyah. In an order he signed, he declared organizations he suspects of terrorist activities to be outside the law: the Association for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped in Qalqilyah, the Handicapped Association, the Handicapped Rehabilitation Association, the Qalqilyah Association for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped, the Qalqilyah Association for the Handicapped, the Organization for Assisting and Caring for the Handicapped, the Qalqilyah Association for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped. These organizations thus became illegal and their members criminals.

Several days later he announced an extension of the two-year ban imposed on Shawan Jabarin, director of the largest Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, from traveling to conferences abroad. According to the commander, Jabarin as well is up to his neck in terrorism.

Last week Major Shmuel Lavie, a judge at the military court in Camp Ofer and Shamni’s counselor on legal issues, ruled that two Palestinians who rented shops in Hebron – which were taken over by settlers from the Avraham Avinu neighborhood – lost their rights as renters because they “abandoned” their assets. The judge was aware of the orders issued by the military commander several years earlier, which banned Palestinians from entering their shops, so they were not there in recent years. Nonetheless he ruled that forced abandonment of property also constitutes abandonment.

Last Friday, as he has done every week for the past six weeks, the Hebron military commander signed an order declaring the area a closed military zone, banning members of the group Breaking the Silence from holding information tours in the city. The settlers in the city opposed the tours, and some of them attacked the organizers, so the commander found a way to preserve the peace.

A representative of the military commander was a key speaker at a Hebrew University conference entitled “Permissible distinction or unacceptable discrimination – does the security argument constitute relevant differentiation?” This is indeed the central question in the activities of the military commander, who has recently been signing orders preventing Palestinians from traveling on this or that street, or entering particular areas in the West Bank. It would have been possible to give the conference a less complicated title: “Apartheid – for or against.”

These are only some examples of the commander’s job: fighting aid organizations and limiting the actions of human rights activists, entrenching discrimination in the law on the basis of nationality, and stripping Palestinians of their property while permitting the settlers’ injustices.

But it is not only the military commander who is doing all this. It is us. Welcome to year 41.

The author is the legal counsel for the human rights organization Yesh Din, and represents plaintiffs in some of the cases mentioned in the article.