An Unenforceable Ordinance?

Did the members of the Knesset who voted for the Disengagement Law realize they were voting for an unenforceable law, that the IDF would have to be called on to enforce this statute?


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 2, 2005.)

What’s all this fuss about moving 8,000 people? In China they moved more than a million! This was the acute observation of a foreign journalist who recently visited Israel.

It is true that in recent years the Chinese government, following a decision to build the Three Gorges Dam project passed in the National People’s Congress by a two-thirds majority, expelled more than a million Chinese from their homes to make way for the gigantic flood control and hydroelectric power project, advertised to be of great benefit to the people of China. Police and military forces were employed to this end. Human Rights Watch reports that the central authorities in China have made the Three Gorges Dam project a priority political task in which failure is simply not permitted.

There is no Human Rights Watch monitoring the disengagement project, but for Israel, 8,000 fellow countrymen is more or less like a million Chinese in China. Israeli government spokesmen have also declared that failure in implementing the disengagement plan will simply not be tolerated, and that the government has decided to use the IDF to force the expulsion of its own citizens from their homes.

But that’s about where the similarity ends. The fact that we have to go to far-away Communist China to find another government forcibly expelling people from their homes is an indication that what is now going on in Israel is inconceivable in any democratic society in this day and age. Forcibly evacuating citizens from their homes and disinterring their dead relatives is an act of barbarism that would not be countenanced anywhere else in the Western world. Condoleezza Rice and Jacques Chirac may be heaping accolades on Israel’s prime minister, but they know full well that they could never get away with such an act of savagery in their own countries.

On occasion, parliaments in democratic countries have passed unenforceable laws. There is a long list of such laws that have ended up in the dustbin of legislative history. What is an unenforceable law, or more aptly, what is an unenforceable law in a democratic society? Presumably, it’s one that cannot be enforced by law enforcement agencies using reasonable measures. The Disengagement Law passed in the Knesset obviously fails this test.

The Israel Police is not capable of enforcing this law even when employing extreme measures like stopping bus traffic in all parts of the country or assigning the task of dealing with demonstrations to a police officer uttering profanities. The IDF has had to be mobilized to carry out the expulsion. Instead of dealing with Israel’s enemies, the IDF is now seen training to fight Israeli citizens as if they were our enemies.

Did the members of the Knesset who voted for the Disengagement Law realize they were voting for an unenforceable law, that the IDF would have to be called on to enforce this statute? How many of them would have voted for this law had they been told?

Some of the more enthusiastic supporters of the disengagement plan contest the very right of opponents to hold protests, arguing that it is the intention of the demonstrators to prevent the execution of the disengagement plan. To them, it is inconceivable that opponents are hoping that through their demonstrations, they will be able to prevail on cabinet ministers and Knesset members to use their common sense and reverse course before the damage is done, that they refuse to accept that this government, like the Chinese Communists, has adopted the disengagement plan as “a priority political task in which failure is simply not permitted.”

And so we find, ranged against Israeli citizens, their own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters serving in the IDF, trained to force them from their homes. One wonders what went through the minds of the defense minister and the chief of staff when they watched IDF soldiers practicing for the unpleasant task forced upon them. Is it possible that they had no thoughts on the matter at all?

It has even been said that if, God forbid, the disengagement plan would have to be called off because of the demonstrations, this will be a defeat for Israeli democracy, so dear to us all. Is it just possible this would instead be a victory for common sense?

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