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Red Rag weekly column: Judge David Rosen - Four decades of civil disobedience
By: Gideon Spiro
25 May 2014 (English translation 2 June)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A judge at the Tel Aviv District Court, David Rosen, became an Israeli hero after he convicted 11 people accused of corruption, which mainly took the form of giving and receiving bribes. The accused were among the crème de la crème of Israeli society, both in business and public service. The great interest in the trial stemmed from the fact that one of those convicted of receiving bribes was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was sentenced to 6 years in prison.
This was the first time a prime minister was convicted and sentenced to prison in Israel. In excellent Hebrew, Judge Rosen wrote a hymn of praise to the honesty and fairness that is required of public servants. In harsh terms he condemned corruption and did not shy away from using language that is atypical for judicial rulings. Olmert was called a traitor, in the sense that he had betrayed the trust that had been conferred on him.
The name David Rosen sounded familiar to me. I searched for the name in a project I have been conducting for 30 years now in which I send personal letters to judges who have passed racist judgements or committed miscarriages of justice or just been wicked. And indeed, Rosen was a “client” of mine.
In 1997 the issue of judicial corruption was discussed on the excellent radio program “Deliberation” [Heb: “Din u-dvarim”] hosted by the judicial commentator Professor Moshe Negbi. The show discussed a magistrate at the time, David Rosen, who had sentenced a Palestinian from East Jerusalem for a trivial infraction. The man did not admit guilt and he said that he did not understand Hebrew, but Rosen made no effort to arrange translation into Arabic, which is an official language in Israel. In the protocol Rosen stated that the accused admitted guilt and sent him to prison. A lawyer with a conscience who was present in the courtroom at the time saw the helplessness of the Palestinian on the one hand and the falsity of the judge’s protocol on the other and decided to represent the Palestinian for free. He was able to have the conviction and sentence overturned. In my usual way, I sent Rosen a letter of protest in which I wrote among other things that he was a racist, a fraud and a forger. Rosen was apparently offended by this, and he lodged a complaint with the police, who summoned me for questioning as a suspect under two provisions of the criminal code: insulting a public servant and contempt of court. These two censorship clauses should have been struck from the statute-book long ago. Does anyone know of a public servant who has not been offended at some point by harsh criticism of the way they did their job? After my police interrogation the subject was raised in Moshe Negbi’s programme with the lawyer Dan Yakir, the judicial counsellor for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and they both wondered: which one should have been summoned for interrogation – the one who had criticized, or the judge who had committed an injustice?
I saw the judge’s behaviour as a natural continuation of his previous career. Rosen was part of a group military judges who transferred to the civilian system, most of them in the magistrates’ courts and the Tel Aviv District Court. The journalist Dorit Gabai published in
(21 April 1997) an article under the heading “The court will stand at attention” in which she related how the former military judges, who were dubbed the “military junta of the court in Tel Aviv”, would meet once a week and reminisce about their military past.
Rosen retired with the rank of colonel after serving for over twenty years in the Israeli Occupation Army’s judicial system. An unjust, wicked and corrupt judicial dictatorship that serves the regime of Occupation and apartheid. It is essentially a factory for convictions and administrative detentions. Terrified children are abducted from their homes at night and sent to detention, tried and convicted in assembly-line military courts. Criminal judges. Those who serve in the military justice system for years, whether as prosecutor or as judge, with time get used to a reality in which a people under Occupation is deprived of human rights and accept it as natural. Infection by the virus of racism is inevitable under those circumstances. One needs to be as heroic as Samson and wise as Amos the Prophet to emerge as a civilized person after years of wallowing in such filth. And so I saw Rosen’s treatment of the Palestinian defendant as a natural extension of the military spirit and a kind of conditioning like that of Pavlov’s dogs. And moreover, back in 1997 he was still at the beginning of his career as a civilian judge and the odour of the military uniform had not yet dissipated. After my police interrogation I sent Rosen another letter to teach him that such complaints would not divert me from my path, and whenever he screwed up he would receive another letter of reprimand from me. And I also asked him to reimburse me for my travel expenses from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and back, which I had incurred due to his groundless complaint. If you want to be treated with respect, I wrote to him, then you must act accordingly.
Fast-forward 17 years to his judicial nuclear bomb. The rich and powerful are convicted in the biggest corruption case in the history of the State of Israel, and a former prime minister is sent to prison. I check to see if it is the same David Rosen who lodged a complaint against me in 1997. And indeed, it is the same one, who meanwhile has been promoted to a District Court. The man in whose face I had flung the accusation that he was faker and a racist wrote a ground-breaking judgement in the struggle against corruption in Israel. His 600-page ruling is a symphony in praise of the purity of the State. He laments the corruption that has spread in Israel and reached all the way to the top.
And this brings us to the big question: does this mean that he is a penitent, humbly returning to democracy like the prodigal son? Does he perceive the line that connects the corruption that characterizes the entire machinery of the Occupation and the corruption of the government within the Green Line? If he is indeed a “penitent democrat” who has undergone a process of purging himself of the uncleanliness of the Occupation like a drug addict who managed to get clean, he certainly deserves double congratulations, both for the transformation he underwent and also for swimming against the current, for the Occupation has also corrupted much of the civilian justice system, which supports violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories. One manifestation of that is the settlement where the settler and Supreme Court Judge Solberg lives.
Or maybe Judge Rosen did not undergo any transformation at all, but has two selves, a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as depicted in the book by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. When he puts on his uniform and crosses the Green Line he is the evil Mr. Hyde, and when he comes back across the Green Line and puts on a suit and tie he is Dr. Jekyll, the gentleman who campaigns against evil. We will learn the truth after he retires and becomes a sought-after subject for interviews.
Do not collaborate
On 20 May the newspaper
published a report that the blogger Naoum R. was summoned for a “warning conversation” at the Israel Security Agency after a tweet he posted on Twitter. What was his crime? In a post in his blog about tortures and abuses that ISA interrogators employ on Palestinian minors in interrogation rooms number 4 and 20 in the Russian Compound police station in Jerusalem, he mentioned the nicknames of the interrogators: “Sabri” from the Qalqilya area, “Daoud” from Jerusalem and “Abu Yusuf” from Bethlehem. He told his readers: “if any of you know their true identities, I am here”. Great, congratulations. In the warning conversation, ISA interrogators told him that Article 19 of the ISA Law forbids publicizing information about members of the organization, and those who violate that clause can get three years in prison. When the blogger was asked what he would do if the names were given to him, he replied that he would consult a lawyer and ask what legal means are at his disposal to struggle against the violence they are doing. A reasonable answer. I would have added that against Article 19 of the ISA Law stands a series of laws and international conventions that ban torture, and it is my duty to expose the criminals. Given the choice between obeying Art. 19 of the ISA Law and obeying the widespread legislation against torture in general and of minors in particular, the latter wins out, with the hope that the criminals will be brought to justice.
This story brings me back to the issue of relations with the machinery of darkness, which includes the police, the army, the ISA, the Mossad, the justice system and the censor. They are mechanisms of authority that apply violence, often much beyond what a democracy can tolerate. That does not mean that everything those mechanisms do is sinister. When police help to find a lost child, they are doing their jobs; when they brutally beat demonstrators or employ violence on detainees they are a mechanism of darkness. When judges jail rapists, murderers and robbers they are doing their jobs, and when they support the violence of the Occupation forces that violate human rights every day, they are part of the regime of darkness. This principle applies to mechanisms of authority. The more the Occupation becomes entrenched, the more my revulsion has grown. It began decades ago, with the censor.
In 1971 I became editor of the student weekly at University of Haifa. I re-established it under the name
. When I began the job I received from the military censor a letter that detailed my obligations, especially the subjects that require the approval of the censor. Being familiar from my time as a mainstream journalist with the stupidity of the censor, I decided that the military censor would not decide what I would publish and what I would not, so I sent him no articles whatsoever. It was a gamble, for after all the censor could have closed the newspaper, but I calculated that since it was a newspaper published in a university, he would refrain from taking such a drastic step. I received from the censor a significant number of warnings and reprimands that I have kept as souvenirs, on this or that article that should have been submitted for censorship, but I ignored them all and the gamble paid off. As it happened, it was none other than the students’ union that nearly succeeded in getting me fired because of a lead article that exposed the ISA’s abuse of an Arab student. Supporters of freedom of the press from among the faculty and student body thwarted that conspiracy. That story made waves in the mainstream press too, and I have proudly kept an article from the weekly
under the headline: “The Editor who Fights the ISA”.
I gradually broke my ties with the army after the June 1967 war. After the terrible and unnecessary war on Yom Kippur 1973, it was clear to me that the Occupation was not going to end any time soon and that my distancing of myself from the army should be expressed in the framework of collective political protest as well as mere personal self-expression, so it was but natural that I became one of the founders of the Yesh Gvul movement in 1982. In 1985 we received the news that the paratroop regiment in which I had served in the 1950s was deployed in the West Bank as an Occupation force. I took my life into my hands and wrote a letter to soldiers in which I explained why I was against serving in the Occupied Territories. I reminded them that it was their right to request to be transferred to within the Green Line. I traveled all over the West Bank and handed out copies of the letter to soldiers. The information that a civilian was going around in the Occupied Territories and distributing “letters of incitement” to soldiers, in the language of the Right, took flight, and again the demand to put me on trial was raised. I escaped with the help of a smart lawyer. I continue that activity to this very day, though at lower volume.
I have been summoned for questioning over my political activism or public writings so many times that I am practically a member of the family when I go to the police station. The police have acquired great skill in tormenting citizens, but with time I discovered that I too have tools for counter-tormenting at my disposal. It all starts with a phone call from a police station. “You have to come for questioning.” “For what purpose?” “They’re not saying.” “How do I know that this is the police and not an impostor? Please send a letter.” “Do you have a fax?” “I don’t give information to people I don’t know.” So they have no choice, they have to send a letter, either by post or hand-delivered by a police officer on a scooter. On the invitation form to go to the police there is a provision that if the specified day is not convenient, to please call to set another date – which I usually do.
When I get to the station there is always a wait, sometimes short and sometimes long, and when the interrogator calls me I learn what it’s about; and there is no surprise: it is a political interrogation. Sometimes I refuse to answer the questions, because it is a political interrogation, and sometimes I decide to expound my entire global outlook, since as a pensioner I have lots of time on my hands. I’m in no hurry to get anywhere. The interrogators tries to abbreviate, to skip over certain things, and when I am asked to sign the transcript, invariably there are mistakes, not to say distortions, so the interrogator is required to go back to square one and write it all over again exactly like as I say it. That is an opportunity for me to observe that there had been no need to summon me in the first place, but since I was summoned for questioning in any case, they should have done their jobs correctly and accurately transcribed the words of the interrogee.
The tables are turned: the tormented becomes the tormentor. It usually ends with them preferring to dispense with my signature rather than write, and then type, the whole thing all over again. Parenthetically: over the course of multiple interrogations I have observed that female interrogators are more intelligent, more educated and write with fewer mistakes than male ones.
As an employee of the Ministry of Education for several years (with the classification of journalist) it was clear to me that I owed loyalty not to the policies of the government, if the government is conducting a criminal policy, but to democracy, human rights and the Declaration of Independence. So I continued to publish articles in the press, as I had done when I was working in the mainstream press. The law that bars employees of the State from criticizing publicly the policies of the government was in my view an illegal and unconstitutional one which converted a State employee into a subject of the government stripped of democratic rights. With the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 I did not hesitate to publicly criticize the policy of the government, for silence would have made me complicit in the crimes. After a series of sharply critical articles it was decided to put me on trial under that tyrannical clause that bans public criticism of the government policies. It was the first time that provision was used. The question at issue: is an employee of the State the property of the government 24 hours a day, or after work are they citizens with all the democratic rights of which freedom of expression is a vital component? In the event, I was convicted, dismissed and barred from government employment for five years. It was a victory for the Eichmannite principle that an employee of the State is the property of the government, who must fully obey orders and can express themselves publicly only in support of its policies. To be honest I must point that I did take into account the possibility of being put on trial and dismissed, but I knew that since my family was from Germany and received reparation payments from the German government, I would be in no danger of going hungry. Thus was born the absurdity that thanks to the reparations payments that my family received for the crimes of the Nazis I was able to criticize the crimes of the government of Israel.
My non-recognition of the authority of the military censor to withhold information from the public manifested itself again in my activism for Israel’s renunciation of nuclear weapons in the context of a Middle East free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. I was apparently the first, certainly among the first, whose articles and speeches in Israel and abroad ignored the censor’s order to add the mantra “according to foreign sources” when talking about Israel’s nuclear bombs. After the bombing of the Osirak reactor in near Baghdad in 1981 I wrote to Prime Minister Menachem Begin that Israel possessed nuclear weapons and had thereby launched the Middle East onto a nuclear arms-race. Israel cannot keep its nuclear monopoly forever by bombing our neighbours’ reactors. The reply to a nuclearized Middle East is to disarm the Middle East before everybody gets them and we find ourselves sitting on a volcano. The letter was published while I was an employee of the State, and so I was put on trial.
At an international conference on the Palestinian question held under United Nations auspices in September 1982 in Geneva, my friend Dr. Tikva Honig and I participated as representatives of the Committee Against the War in Lebanon. In my speech, which was also distributed as a written document of the Committee, I pointed out that Israel had nuclear weapons bombs and constituted a danger to itself and the world. It must dismantle its nuclear weapons in the framework of regional nuclear disarmament and the opening of the reactor in Dimona to international inspection.
In the previous section I mentioned the project of letters to judges that I began in 1983. Even though I was put on trial at the beginning of the project (contempt of court and insulting a public employee), the project continues to this very day.
In 1999 Issam Makhoul was elected to the Knesset on the Hadash list. We knew each other from our student days and our activism at the University of Haifa. I met with him, gave him the book
Vanunu and the Bomb
and suggested that he put the subject of Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the agenda of the Knesset. Issam agreed immediately and the debate took place in February 2000. Before the debate Issam asked me to propose the outline of a speech for him, which I did.
I noted with satisfaction that most of what I proposed was accepted and included the speech, and Issam also added material of his own. As part of my struggle against censorship, my proposal to Issam included removing the anonymity of the head of internal security at the Defence Ministry, whose domain includes the reactor at Dimona. His name and picture were barred from publication. Issam’s speech was distributed to the press and with it the name of the security chief, Yehiel Horev. Thus the ban was lifted and his name and photo were published.
In October 2008 I visited besieged Gaza with a delegation that brought medicines to the Shifa hospital. The boat departed from Cyprus and succeeded in breaking the siege. When I returned to Israel through the Erez checkpoint a police car was waiting for me. It took me to the Sderot police station, where I was interrogated. The interrogator informed me that I was suspected of violating an order issued by the head of the IDF Southern Command that bars Israelis from entering Gaza. I explained to the interrogator that 1) I did not know about that order, and 2) even if I had known about it, I still would have joined the delegation. I do not recognize the OC Southern Command’s authority to tell me where I can travel and where not. Only in totalitarian regimes do generals order civilians where to travel. Since the interrogator showed no sign of hostility I decided to give detailed testimony in justification of my trip to Gaza, in the hope that it would motivate him to question the justification of the siege.
I have re-read what I have written, and I have noticed that a pattern, not planned it in advance, has repeated itself from my University of Haifa days until today: “civil disobedience” as a protest against the injustices of the government. Civil disobedience is a non-violent method of struggle that is part of the democratic structure. It has led me to achievements and small victories that I did not realize through mass demonstrations (which undeniably have their place too). And another advantage to this method is that every person decides for themselves on the extent of their disobedience. As long as there continues to be a certain degree of democracy in Israel within the Green Line (democracy that is under siege right now, it is in urgent need of a boatload of human-rights activists from Cyprus), this method is worth adopting.
Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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