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Palestine - Israel

Mobile borders

Friday 11 May 2007, by Michel Warshavsky

Six years ago, I wrote a book titled On the Border, in which I tried to reflect on the unique way the Israeli state and its ideology deal with the border phenomenon. Recently, I had several opportunities to confirm some of these reflections, especially on the mobile character of the borders.

A few days ago, with a group of friends, I went for a holiday in the far north of the Galilee. While walking towards the border with Lebanon, my friend Salman, one the leaders of the Syrian population in the occupied Golan Heights, showed me several border-stones and an old gate: “here is the international border, but, as you can see, Israel has extended its control into the Lebanese sovereign territory, few dozens yards to the north, in a gradual move, which erased the real international border.”

The Bishara affair is also a question of border: the border of the law. Throughout the years, the brave and brilliant (former) Member of Knesset has tested how far he is allowed to go, in terms of political statements and initiatives, especially when he was able to use his parliamentarian immunity.

For his political activities, Bishara was often attacked by the rightwing MKs, who systematically demanded that he be criminally charged for his contacts with the enemy, illegal entry to Arab countries, and other offenses. The Attorney General’s usual answer was that, although Bishara’s actions hurt the feelings of the average Israeli, they remain within the borders of the law.

But, the borders of the law are mobile too, and due to the war—especially its shameful results—the border was moved backward. This is how, one day, Azmi Bishara found himself criminalized for deeds, which, only a year ago, were officially declared as non-illegal by the Attorney General. The same happened three years ago with Tali Fahima and her meetings with Palestinian activists in Jenin. The same also happened twenty years ago with the Alternative Information Center and its association with Palestinian organizations in the occupied Palestinian territories, a collaboration which was tolerated for more than three years and, suddenly, declared illegal in 1987.

This moving-border of the law obliges each and everyone to decide whether or not s/he will stay far from that border, in order not to get into trouble if and when the border will be moved backward. As for me, I already gave my answer in the trial against the Alternative Information Center:

”… I refuse to distance myself from the border and stay within the confines of comfortable legality; I have contempt for those who prefer to desist because they are not quite sure what is permissible. My judges reproached me for getting too close to the border. I’m sorry, but that is where I decided to defend and expand our freedoms.”

Moreover, each and everyone have also to make another decision, even more difficult: when the borders of the law are moving backward and delegitimizing political opinions and acts, should we respect that law? Asking the question is in fact already answering it. A regime which delegitimizes political opinions or acts, which, in the past have been legitimate, loses, at least partially, its democratic nature, therefore obliging the citizen to rebel and to defy the undemocratic law.

Democracy is a contract between the regime and the citizens. When the first violates the contract, the free citizen has the right, the duty even, to enter into rebellion.

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