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Remembering Meir Shamgar, the chief legal architect of Israeli apartheid

Opinion
on 4 Comments

Meir Shamgar, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court who passed away on October 19, was described by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as one who “has played an important role in shaping Israel’s legal foundations, including the legal policy in Judea and Samaria.” Netanyahu is right. Judge Shamgar was the chief architect of the Israeli legal regime of occupation, settlement construction, and apartheid. More specifically, he is responsible for the removal of judicial impediments to war crimes.

Judge Shamgar’s main influence was in denying Palestinians the protections that international law affords to human beings under occupation, leading to Israel’s deepening of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As far as Judge Shamgar was concerned, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are ‘possessed territories’, which means that Palestinians residing in these territories are not entitled to human beings’ rights under occupation, nor are they entitled to Israeli citizenship. Thus, Judge Shamgar fashioned a law of denied occupation, one which amounts to apartheid.

Bust of Judge Meir Shamgar displayed in the Israeli Supreme Court building. (Photo: Avishai Teicher.Wikimedia)

Bust of Judge Meir Shamgar displayed in the Israeli Supreme Court building. (Photo: Avishai Teicher.Wikimedia)

Judge Shamgar attempted to hold the rope at both ends in determining the status of the occupied territories. He obscured the question of the applicability of the Geneva Convention in these territories. According to the official Israeli official, the Geneva Convention does not apply in the occupied Palestinian territories, but Israel willingly accepts the application of its humanitarian principles. Israel does not accept the prohibition to establish settlements in occupied territory as one of the humanitarian principles of the Geneva Convention, and the Supreme Court should not discuss the question of the applicability of the statue since the state voluntary accepts it.

The person responsible for this misconception is Judge Shamgar.  He followed those colonial-era thinkers, such as German historian and statesman Heinrich Gotthard von Treitschke, who argued that international law did not apply to ‘barbarian peoples’. Judge Shamgar did not talk explicitly about barbaric peoples, but his claim – which was completely rejected by the International Court of Justice – was that the Geneva Convention is only applicable in territories previously under a legitimate sovereign. The International Court of Justice ruled that the treaty’s aim was not to protect the states, but the inhabitants of the occupied territory, and therefore it should not matter whether said territories were seized from a state.

Judge Shamgar was one of the main architects of the legal foundations of the Israeli occupation. A key element of this, even before the settlements were established, is that Israeli citizens residing in the occupied territories are subject to laws different from those which govern the Palestinians. Judge Shamgar created an apartheid system in doing so, and this was a recurring motive in his work. After Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler, killed 29 Palestinians during his 1994 massacre in Hebron, the occupation soldiers killed even more Palestinians. Then, under the pretext of protecting the Palestinians, the commission of inquiry, which Judge Shamgar chaired and which investigated the incident, deepened apartheid by concluding that it was necessary to subject the settlers to Israeli civil police, rather than to the army. In other words, the commission punished the Palestinians for the massacre they had experienced.

In addition, Judge Shamgar and other Israeli judges did not recognize the basic principle of “no taxation without representation.” International law prohibits the occupying power from imposing new taxes on the occupied population. In the mid-1970s, Israel changed its taxation composition in Israel so that citizens were subject to VAT. Israel decided to impose VAT on Palestinians in the occupied territories too. Judge Shamgar approved such imposition of taxes. He even allowed the government to take into account Israel’s economic interests when deciding on the taxation of the Palestinians. American citizen and Palestinian activist Dr. Mubarak Awad organized a Gandhi-inspired tax revolt against the Israeli occupation during the first intifada in the 1980s. Awad argued that the Palestinians should not finance the occupation through their taxes. The Israeli Supreme Court, under future President Aharon Barak, approved Awad’s deportation from the country. The Israeli Supreme Court forced the Palestinians to let the Israeli occupation sustain itself by their taxes.

Meir Shamgar created a vicious cycle: The lack of recognition of the rights of the occupied population led to the continuation of the occupation, which caused a greater violation of the occupied population’s rights. He took pride in allowing the Palestinians to petition the Israeli Supreme Court. However, instead of ruling by justice or by law, the Israeli legal system has been an arbitrator who does not recognize the applicability of the very law which protects the Palestinians, and has systematically distorted said law.

Moreover, over the years, Judge Shamgar has granted a stamp of approval to a variety of blatantly illegal Israeli actions, such as the deportation of 400 Palestinians to Lebanon in 1992, even before a hearing.  He also approved the pardon granted to Israeli General Security Service personnel who killed captive terrorists in 1984, thus violating the rule rule of law.

Judge Shamgar did not apologize for his crimes until his death. In the documentary “The Law in these Parts“, he claimed that there was no connection between the judicial decisions that legitimized settlements and the phenomenon of settlements themselves. Supporters of human rights, and hopefully Israeli society, should rebel against Judge Shamgar’s legacy.

Uri Weiss

Dr. Uri Weiss is a Doctor of Laws and a Polonsky Fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem 

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4 Responses

  1. JWalters on November 4, 2019, 6:50 pm

    Word games.

    One of their most egregious, foundation word games is to claim that Islam is a foreign, pagan religion, somehow extremely “other”. In fact, the Koran specifically states its purpose is to bring the messages of Moses and Jesus to a people who had not yet heard them. The sermons in the Koran all reflect these teachings. An eye for an eye if you must, but forgiveness is better if possible. Thus the Koran combines lessons from the two books. But the Zionists shun opportunity for cooperation in favor of predatory war. These are not people who can be reasoned with.

    • Misterioso on November 5, 2019, 10:27 am

      @JWalters,

      “In fact, the Koran specifically states its purpose is to bring the messages of Moses and Jesus to a people who had not yet heard them. The sermons in the Koran all reflect these teachings.” Correct!

      To wit:
      The Arabic inscription over Jaffa Gate (the western entrance to Old Jerusalem) reads: “There is no Lord but God and Abraham is his friend.”

      https://www.soas.ac.uk/religions-and-philosophies/events/jordan-lectures-in-comparative-religion/14may2012-opening-lecture-how-islam-saved-the-jews.html

      “So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews? – How Islam Saved the Jews.” Lecture by Professor David J Wasserstein.

      David J Wasserstein is the Eugene Greener Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. This article is adapted from his May, 2012, Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

      Excerpt:
      “Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.

      “By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity. Much of our testimony about Jewish existence in the Roman Empire from this time on consists of accounts of conversions.

      “Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman Empire.

      “A long series of enactments deprived Jewish people of their rights as citizens, prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, and excluded them from the society of their fellows.

      “Had Islam not come along, Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance and Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult. This went along with the centuries-long military and political struggle with Persia. As a tiny element in the Christian world, the Jews should not have been affected much by this broad, political issue. Yet it affected them critically, because the Persian Empire at this time included Babylon – now Iraq – at the time home to the world’s greatest concentration of Jews.

      “Here also were the greatest centres of Jewish intellectual life. The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself – the Talmud – came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule. Beyond all this, the Jews who lived under Christian rule seemed to have lost the knowledge of their own culturally specific languages – Hebrew and Aramaic – and to have taken on the use of Latin or Greek or other non-Jewish, local, languages. This in turn must have meant that they also lost access to the central literary works of Jewish culture – the Torah, Mishnah, poetry, midrash, even liturgy.”

  2. echinococcus on November 4, 2019, 11:54 pm

    “Supporters of human rights, and hopefully Israeli society…”

    These are two separate and entirely distinct things. The latter of the two has nothing hopeful to it because any supporter of human rights gets isolated and disowned by it. Such supporters would be much more useful by refusing to reside on other people’s stolen land by the force of invaders’ arms, and leading the emigration out of illegally occupied Palestine, which is all of Palestine.

  3. Vera Gottlieb on November 10, 2019, 11:27 am

    Good riddance!

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