Where Kindness Is A Crime

Israel/Palestine
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In a May 7 article, Haaretz reporter Ilana Hammerman described in dramatic detail a crime she had methodically planned and committed. In defiance of laws supposedly related to Israel’s security, Hammerman picked up three teenage Palestinian girls in their village in the West Bank, took them through the Betar checkpoint, and drove them into Tel Aviv. There they ate ice cream, visited the mall and museum, and played in the sea. Even though the girls lived just a few kilometers from the beach, Israel’s military occupation had prevented them from ever visiting it before their illegal "day of fun."

Hammerman wrote in her account of the experience, "If There Is A Heaven:"

“The end was wonderful. The last photos show them about two hours after the trip to the flea market, running in the darkness on Tel Aviv’s Banana Beach. They didn’t want to stop for even a minute at the restaurant there to have a bite to eat or something to drink, or even to just relax a bit. Instead they immediately removed their sandals again, rolled up their pants and ran into the water. And ran and ran, back and forth, in zig-zags, along the huge beach, ponytails flying in the wind. From time to time, they knelt down in the sand or crowded together in the shallow water to have their picture taken. The final photo shows two of them standing in the water, arms around each others’ waists, their backs to the camera. Only the bright color of their shirts contrasting with the dark water and the sky reveals that the two are Yasmin and Aya, because Lin was wearing a black shirt.”

But the fun ended as soon as a group called The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel filed a request with Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein demanding that Hammerman be prosecuted for breaking the country’s "Law of Entry to Israel" forbidding Israelis from assisting Palestinians in entering Israel. If Weinstein agrees to the request, Hammerman could face as much as two years in prison.

The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel was founded by a religious nationalist settler named Nachi Eyal. When I reached Eyal on the phone, he maintained to me that his concern related strictly to Hammerman’s disregard for the rule of law. "She broke the law and she made a report about her breaking of the law," Eyal told me. "She wanted everyone to know that you can take Palestinians in against the law and lie to police officers and the Army. I want to send a message that no citizen in Israel can take the law into his hands and if he does they have to pay."

However, a glance at Eyal’s past campaigns and statements reveal his targeting of Hammerman as part of a broader agenda that has less to do with the rule of law than with opening a new phase in the settlement movement’s political agenda. A former aide to settlement founding father Chanan Porat, Eyal founded his Legal Forum in 2004 to combat the Israeli government’s planned evacuation of the radical Gush Katif settlement from the Gaza Strip. In recent years, the Legal Forum has focused its efforts increasingly inside the Green Line, ramping up the pressure against Palestinian citizens of Israel and anyone who advocates on their behalf.

Eyal has boasted of his latest campaign to push Jewish settlement activity in coastal cities of Israel like Jaffa, Akko and Haifa which maintain sizable communities of Palestinian citizens of Israel. He claimed he has "encouraged Jews not to put up ‘for sale’ signs in these areas in order to dissuade Arabs from buying up these properties." The Legal Forum is also intent on preventing Palestinian Israelis from building on their own land. "We are mapping Israel’s land resources, investigating illegal Arab building sites and filing suits against such building," Eyal has said.

The Legal Forum is a prominent player in right-wing efforts to disqualify Palestinian-Israeli legislators from the Knesset. In May, when Balad MK Jamal Zahalka made anti-Zionist statements during a speech in Ramallah, Eyal called on the government of Israel to revoke his citizenship. "If a member of Knesset goes to the enemy and says bad things about Israel they must pay for this," Eyal insisted to me. "Israeli democracy must have weapons to preserve the democracy or it will be destroyed."

In another recent campaign, Eyal attacked a military investigation of an Army colonel who publicly justified his use of torture techniques to compel Palestinian detainees into confessions. The investigation "ties the IDF’s hands during the war on terrorism," Eyal said, "and helps the terrorists." Eyal’s Legal Fund spearheaded the campaign to suppress a book, "The House of Dajani," that portrayed the early Zionists in unflattering terms. His efforts led to the reversal of a decision to award the book the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award.

Now Eyal’s efforts are focused on ensuring that Hammerman’s kindness does not go unpunished — "they have to pay," as he said. The Attorney General has ordered the police to open an investigation of Hammerman and Eyal is confident that case will proceed to the next stage.

"I think we will succeed because [Hammerman] broke the law and she made a lot of noise," Eyal remarked. "Israel will not allow these kinds of things to continue."

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