Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Morality and Justice Indivisible for Israeli Lawyer Lynda Brayer

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Morality and Justice Indivisible for Israeli Lawyer Lynda Brayer

Article excerpt

At nine o'clock on an October morning last year, we filed into the Israeli High Court in Jerusalem. To the court officials we must have been a strange sight. Dressed in our religious habits, with white rabatos and black robes, we padded like three lost penguins behind an Israeli woman lawyer, Lynda Brayer, in her British barrister's black. We stood as the three judges entered the courtroom. Lynda whispered, "It's the president of the Supreme Court, M. Shamgar!" The two equally solemn black-robed, gray-haired gentlemen on either side of him were judges D. Levin and A. Goldberg.

The court is located in the Old Russian Compound. The entire building was once a Russian monastery, until the British Mandate converted part of the building into law courts and the accompanying prison. The dark varnished paneling, the high-backed leather padded chairs on the raised bench and the witness stand were, I presumed, vestiges of the British presence in Palestine. The fluorescent lighting, the Israeli flag, the seven-branched menorah insignia over the bench, and the whispered activity of the officials in white shirts and black ties, were now clearly Israeli.

Why were three members of the De La Salle Brothers Community from the Israeli-occupied West Bank attending the Israeli High Court in Jerusalem? Because one of us had returned from New York with a gift to the community of a computer for use in our work in Bethlehem.

A Confiscated Gift

The gift was confiscated by the Israeli authorities, under Military Order 1252, part of a punitive package introduced in May 1988, six months after the intifada began. Military Order 1252 forbids any electrical or pharmaceutical goods from abroad being brought into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by any resident, except the Jewish settlers, who are exempt from the 1,500 Military Orders imposed on the Palestinians and who flourish under another separate legal system in the same territory. The presence of two young Israeli soldier lawyers in military uniform in the High Court was a reminder to us that the authorities from Beit Eil, the Israeli Civil and Military Administration headquarters for the West Bank, were particularly interested in our case. Before the court convened, an American Brother from New York had discovered that one of the prosecutors also had been born in New York, near Howard Beach.

The purpose of our petition to the Israeli High Court was to challenge the validity of Military Order 1252. Prior to making the petition the Military Authorities, on the quiet, countered their previous decision and were prepared to give a permit for the computer. They did not want the validity of Military Order 1252 to be discussed in court.

We appreciated the need to consider the security risk to the Israelis of electronic goods. We were aware, however, that for a Palestinian, bringing an electric kettle or pharmaceutical goods into the West Bank is a crime punishable with up to five years in prison. In contrast to such Draconian laws applied to Muslims and Christians, but not to the Jewish population in the occupied territories, in Israel itself the punishment for theft of any amount of goods or money cannot exceed three years' imprisonment.

How was it, we asked ourselves, that a Jewish settler, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who shot and killed a Palestinian and who repeatedly perjured himself in the police courts, was sentenced to only five months in prison, later reduced to three months, for "negligent manslaughter of an Arab"? How is it that young Palestinians are imprisoned for nine years for holding empty bottles under the suspicion that they may have been throwing Molotov cocktails? And, more immediate to my own experience, what is the moral basis of the arrest under administrative detention -- a Military Order spuriously based on British Mandate Defense Emergency Regulations that were rescinded when the British left in 1948 -- of the president of the student senate of Bethlehem University, who can be held for one whole year without trial? …

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