Lawlessness and the Rule of Law

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With the ongoing crisis in the peace process and with Palestinian-Israeli relations degenerating to the worst brutality of the occupier-occupied equation, the last thing we need as Palestinians is internal disintegration.

It is imperative that Israels policies and measures of lawlessness, including its imposition of a state of multiple siege, its shelling of homes and indiscriminate shooting of civilians, and its systematic assassination (extra-judicial killings) of field and political leaderships not be internalized to become justifications for internal distortions and violations.

More than ever now there is a pressing need to address issues of public order, collective responsibility, and societal cohesiveness as well as normal institutional behavior within Palestinian realities.

The most fundamental requirement for sustaining the very fabric of life in Palestine is the enactment of the principle of the rule of law, particularly in reforming and revitalizing an independent judicial system and in ensuring due process in all cases.

From the mundane (such as compliance with traffic regulations), through issues of personal property and safety, to the most volatile question of treason and collaboration with IsraelPalestine and its leadership are called upon to demonstrate a sense of responsibility, restraint, self-discipline, respect for the law, and public service.

The Legislative Council (despite the dubiousness of its extended mandate) must ensure effective and speedy legislation to respond to (as well as to anticipate) the urgent emergency needs of a population already traumatized by a massive Israeli military assault and strangulation.

The different public institutions and governmental bodies are called upon to intensify and upgrade their work to alleviate suffering and deprivation and to protect the interests and well being of the citizenry.

The judiciary, despite the multiple closure and lack of freedom of movement, must act expeditiously to perform its functions and ensure a genuine rule of law and due process.

The security forces are called upon to undertake their responsibilities as law enforcement agencies, maintaining discipline and compliance with the law.

MIFTAH has repeatedly called for the completion and upgrading of the judiciary and the legal system, for the abolition of the military State Security Courts and the abandonment of the death penalty, for the establishment of transparent and accountable public institutions based on professionalism and meritocracy, and for the enhancement of democratic practices and respect for pluralism by establishing an integrated and inclusive system of participatory governance (See, for example, Key Issues: Violence and Retribution in Palestine, Developments in the Palestinian Judiciary, Justice and the Palestinian Judiciary).

It should come as no surprise that the absence of legal accountability would lead to excesses (with impunity) on the one hand, and to a degeneration into tribal, community, revolutionary, popular, and even personal justice on the other hand.

In an attempt to protect itself from the inherent threat of such crimes as collaboration (leading to the Israeli assassination of national leaders) and in an attempt to punish the guilty, Palestinian society has accepted (and in some cases pressed for) the implementation of the death penalty. Under popular pressure, the PNA activated the instant justice of the state security courts.

More alarming is the resort to lethal retribution against collaborators by organizations and individuals who, in the face of real threat, take the law into their own hands.

Despite the horror of the offense itself and its fatal consequences on Palestinian security and well-being, countering Israels illegal and immoral recruitment and activation of collaborators to carry out its policy of political assassinations should not take the form of parallel eliminations.

Nor should suspicion (or even proof) of corruption or abuse and misuse of public position and funds be cause for violent, extra judicial punishment.

Even during the first Intifada, Palestinians called for Days of Repentance for collaborators in a process of political rehabilitation and redemption. The acceptable penalty was one of ostracism from society or community.

Although such measures did not always succeed, at least there was awareness that popular revenge, settling of scores, or extra judicial justice would lead to an internal unraveling of the social fabric.

With the presence of the PNA and its different institutions, this has become even more urgent and compelling. The PNA must put its own house in order and must ensure that all branches of government are functioning effectively.

No one can overestimate the disruptive and destructive impact of the current crisis and of Israels brutality as a belligerent occupant; to withstand such assaults, however, it is imperative that the structures and systems of democratic life be maintained as the most constructive and efficient form of empowerment of the victims to enable them to withstand such an external assault.

Equality before the law, due process, and the presumption of innocence must all be maintained. Hence all violators must have their day and say in a properly constituted court. It is not a question of image, or of responding to donor or external pressure (as the minister of justice claimed).

Rather, it is the appropriate responsibility of any government to ensure justice and legal accountability as well as institutional service and protection of its citizenry.

It is also the appropriate right of the people to expect and to receive fair and effective governance.

Once again, internal empowerment and stability are the only means for withstanding external threat and repression.

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