‘You have to demolish them while they’re small’ — Israel’s chief justice approves destruction of mosque

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illegal mosque
Mosque in Al Mufaqara,West Bank demolished Dec.4,2012 (Photo: Regavim)

Amira Hass wrote an important article in Haaretz yesterday about a gruesome phrase uttered by Israel’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice referencing the demolition of a mosque in the south Hebron Hills last week: “You have to demolish them while they’re small.”

On its face, the demolition was nothing extraordinary and what we’ve come to expect. But the destruction of this little mosque in the village of Al Mufaqara provides yet another example of how Regavim, a rising, extreme-national-religious social movement whose goal is to encourage the state to demolish Palestinian homes and public buildings, works in symmetry with Israel’s recently radicalized Supreme Court to escalate efforts to remove Palestine from the map.

This is about a new political constellation: Regavim, the Supreme Court, and the Knesset are working together to circumvent the law and cleanse the land. In the past, though the court acted to facilitate the land grab, it was still an instrument of legal recourse, and at times worked in Palestinians’ favor. But recent changes by the Knesset’s judicial selection committee are apparently being used to make the court a more activist component of the push to clear Palestinians from Area C.

Israeli Supreme Court Chief Grunis (Photo:Yoav Dudkevitch)

Oddly, some Israeli supporters consider the words of the Chief Justice “a minor miracle.” Hass referenced the website Hakol Hayehudi (“The Jewish Voice,” whose tagline is “News for Happy Jews” ), which reported ‘rejoice’-ing at the judge’s phraseology.

I unearthed this same glee in an article at another site, the Jewish Press, which describes the mosque as an “ugly thing.” So let’s take a closer look at that “miracle” and later, what it tells us about Israel’s annexation plans .

The Jewish Press:

A miracle of sorts took place today at the Israeli Supreme court, which could be the sign of good things to come. It was during part of an ongoing discussion of Illegal Arab construction in Judea and Samaria, and this time the issue at hand was a mosque built illegally in Al-Mofkra (Regavim), on the southern slope of Mt. Hebron.

According to The Jewish Voice, the panel of judges headed by Supreme Court President Grunis, with Justices Miriam Naor and Edna Arbel, opened the discussion by saying that illegal construction cannot be allowed to go on at all, especially in Judea and Samaria. The panel added that enforcement activity should be performed efficiently.

In this context, Justice Grunis said that “we must kill them when they’re young” (the literal translation from Hebrew would be “We must destroy them when they’re little”). The quip was made in front of representatives of the State Attorney’s Office, who told the court they intend to destroy the illegal mosque in the coming weeks.

The reason this can be considered a minor miracle is that both of Grunis’s predecessors, chief justices Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinish, would not have been caught dead saying something so un-PC about a Muslim house of worship. The fact that Justice Grunis was able to joke about it – and then do the right thing and force the state to take down the ugly thing – is very much a step in the right direction for the court.

Asher Grunis’s February 2012 promotion to Supreme Court President was ushered in last January by the “Grunis Law,” designed to bypass other judges in line to lead the Court.

Lizzy Ratner, author of “Grunis discriminates his way to the top of the Israeli Supreme Court,” describes the implications of his court leadership as a “critical moment in Israel’s long moral suicide”:

 As a former Supreme Court justice told Haaretz, “It is no secret that Grunis holds rigidly to the idea of reducing the powers of the Supreme Court, and that is why ‘wild weeds’ on the right want him as president. He is their ‘favorite son.'”

With Grunis’s ascent, Israel’s Supreme Court officially ends its so-called “liberal-democratic” phase (though, truth be told, it was neither liberal or democratic) and enters what might be called its radical-fanatical right-wing phase. Just last month, the court got its first settler-judge, Judge Noam Sohlberg — that’s right, a man who regularly violates international law is now a member of the highest court in the land, as Eyal Clyne pointed out — and Grunis will have vast authority over future judicial appointments.

This push to the extreme right involves coordination of Knesset legislation, the radical fanatic group Regavim, and the Supreme Court all in one fell swoop. Michael Sfard reminds us Israeli legislation doesn’t apply to the West Bank because the Knesset doesn’t exercise jurisdiction over the West Bank. That’s left to the courts, which Ratner rightly describes an entering a “radical-fanatical right-wing phase.” 

amira hass
Amira Hass

Hass reports Haaretz called the court for clarification of Grunis’s comments, and it claimed that “the procedural question……refers to both sides,” Palestinian and Israeli. She deftly laid that claim to shame by juxtaposing the fulfillment of Regavim’s demand to demolish Al Mufaqara’s little mosque, serving 400 Muslims, with earlier court decisions in which the court has considered demands by Palestinians to be able to control planning in Area C. Hass questions whether Israel’s Supreme Court President even speaks the same “legal and values-based language” as those who represent the Palestinians.

A judge who creates symmetry between those who rule by force and their subjects who are denied their rights, knowingly and deliberately sides with the powerful.


Is a justice who says, “You have to demolish them while they’re small,” and who fails to take into account the profound difference between prohibiting Palestinian construction and encouraging Jewish construction, speaking the same legal and values-based language in which the Dirat Rafa’iya petition was written? If not, it’s not too late for him to learn it.

Read the whole thing. With all due respect to Hass, I have serious doubts about the learning curve of a Chief Justice who sides with the powerful and, according to a former Supreme Court justice, has long supported reducing the powers of the high court. Though reducing the Supreme Court’s powers may well be on hold now, given Grunis’s importance to the rightwing agenda.

For a revealing, and frightening, look at Regavim, I recommend the links and video at this earlier post: Influential Israeli org ‘Regavim’ focused on expelling Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. Or listen to Regavim as it describes its aims:

Regavim’s activities are directed at influencing all the State of Israel’s government systems in order to bring them, and effectively the whole country, to act based on the fundamental principles of Zionism and protect Israel’s lands and national properties.

Drip drip drip. Slowly but surely, Palestinian life in Area C continues to be undermined and whittled away…

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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