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A Special "Gush Shalom Law"?

Press release September 2, 2002

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-- The Attorney General: No basis to prosecute Gush Shalom
-- The Minister of Justice: We will consider legislation to put the Gush Shalom activists on trial
-- At the same time: a beginning of a more critical general public
-- Well-known legal expert Moshe Hanegbi: special legislation could overturn the rule of law.
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-- Today, Attorney General, Elyakim Rubinstein - after having been repeatedly pressured by the government to start procedures against Gush Shalom - was quoted as saying that he doesn't see any legal basis for such a step. We are happy but not surprised at hearing this news. We never had a doubt that warning officers about violations of international law was a completely legal act, and that the true offenders were those responsible for the bombings and shootings which ended in the killing of civilians.

-- Matters do not, however, rest with the AG's decision. Meir Sheetrit, Minister of Justice, seems determined to put Gush Shalom activists on trial, and if existing legislation will not serve his purpose he intends to introduce some brand-new bills. The minister's intention has been announced at noon via Y-Net* (the website of Israel's mass distribution daily Yediot Aharonot) and continues to fill the electronic media programs - also giving our people the opportunity to answer. The minister did not go into details, so we are left in doubt as to his exact intent: A law forbidding Israeli citizens to collect evidence of violations of International Law? A prohibition on warning officers against the possible consequences of such violations? It would certainly be a preposterous and unprecedented law - but then, quite a few preposterous and unprecedented things already happened here...

-- We have the impression that the effort of the Minister of Justice to extend his campaign against us beyond the Attorney Generals' conclusion has much to do with the general situation. In the past weeks the public atmosphere in Israel is gradually changing. After many months of giving uncritical support to whatever the army and the government chose to do, the mainstream media is starting to ask sharp questions, especially regarding the series of incidents ("regrettable accidents" as the army put it) which claimed the lives of fifteen innocent Palestinian civilians, including four children, over just a few days. Defence Minster Ben Eliezer, facing the challenge of the dovish Amram Mitzna for the Labour Party leadership, felt obliged to appoint a special investigator and demand an account from the army command. Also, Army Chief-of-Staff Yaalon came under strong fire in the press for his lashing out at "the enemy within" (Ha'aretz August 31) - attempting to deligitimise all wartime dissent and criticism of the army. Moreover, there has been a stream of revelations about widespread looting in the Palestinian towns occupied by the army in April and again since June - no surprise to hardcore peace and human rights activists, but virtually the first which the general Israeli public heard of such things, and also the first time that the reports are bolstered by firs t- hand testimonies of some of the soldiers themselves.

The change in public atmosphere has to be seen also against the background of the halt in suicide bombings inside Israel. It is now precisely a month since the last such bombing, which happened on August 4. The halt in suicide bombings is the official policy of the Palestinian Authority, and so far also the radical factions such as Hamas observe it in practice. It is however doubtful whether the Palestinian factions will be able to continue with the wise restraint policy in the face of the bloody provocations of the past days - and with no end in sight of the curfews, the closures, the occupation.

-- Today, on Israeli radio (Reshet Bet), the well-known legal commentator Moshe Negbi praised the Attorney General for his decision not to start proceedingas against Gush Shalom. He sharply condemned the intended special legislation of the Justice Minister, saying that such legislation might completely overturn the rule of law in Israel. "The perception of reporting violations of law as 'informing' is fitting for a persecuted community in a ghetto which regards police as the enemy, or to an underground. It is completely unfitting for a sovereign democratic state."


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