Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Nehemia Shtrasler: The legislators

13 July 2009

By Nehemia Shtrasler, Haaretz – 13 July 2009

Tomorrow Knesset members will vote on the state budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill that accompanies it. These are two major bills that will determine the character of the State of Israel. But do the MKs actually know what they’re voting on? A recent article by Vered Lee (“How did I vote?” July 7) raises some doubts.

Lee was referring specifically to the vote on the Infiltration Prevention Bill, meant to prevent asylum seekers from Sudan’s Darfur region from entering Israel. These refugees walk through the desert, crossing the border from Egypt into Israel illegally, in order to save their own lives.

The bill stipulates that infiltrators will be subject to a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Furthermore, any Israeli who dares to help them, for example by providing medical assistance, shelter, work or food, may also face up to 20 years in prison.

This bill contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and international human rights conventions to which Israel is a signatory. Additionally, it exposes human rights activists to criminal prosecution for an offense carrying the kind of punishment more commonly levied on murderers.

Fifty-nine MKs voted to apply the rule of continuity to the bill – which enables bills that passed initial readings in the previous Knesset session to be brought forward – with only one righteous man in Sodom, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), voting against it. A few of the MKs were asked about their vote, and here are their astonishing responses, as quoted by Lee in her report.

Nitzan Horowitz (New Movement-Meretz): “I accidentally voted for it, even though I oppose the law.”

Orit Noked (Labor) said she voted in favor, because “I am bound by [the] coalition.” By that logic she could be replaced by a robot, who would vote in accordance with party directives.

Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi): “It is not practical for us to read every bill.” In other words, it’s not practical to work. What is practical? To take a long recess in the summer and one in the winter, too?

Orli Levy (Yisrael Beiteinu) did not even know how she voted. When told that she voted in favor of the bill, she said she did so “because I’m part of the coalition and I have to choose my battles.” Apparently the refugees are not among them.

Eitan Cabel (Labor) admitted: “I didn’t read it thoroughly and did not examine the details. I was distracted.” Would Cabel sign off on a contract to purchase a home that was stamped “Signed while distracted”?

Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) said the MKs must cope with “a tremendous amount of legislation and we cannot learn every issue … I didn’t know the Darfur refugees were included in this.” What is he getting paid for, if not to study “every issue”? The moment he votes on something he has no knowledge of, he is violating the trust of the public that sent him to the legislature.

Israel was founded upon the guilt of the countries that did not lift a finger to save the Jews. We come to them, asking why they didn’t open their gates and why they cooperated with the Nazis and handed over Jews to their murderers. Israel also sings the praises of the few who endangered themselves and their families by aiding and saving Jews.

What is happening in Darfur is not necessarily a Holocaust like that endured by the European Jews, but it is genocide. There are death camps, and militias that massacre civilians. Refugees are fleeing from the horrors and requesting the protection of the Jewish people. These are not labor migrants, these are refugees fleeing for their lives.

Edward Zwick’s film “Defiance,” based on a real story, portrays four brothers from the Bielski family who, instead of giving in to the Nazis, fled into the forests and saved other Jews. In one scene a Polish farmer who hides Jews in a barn is eventually caught, after being ratted out, and hanged. The words “I love Jews” are affixed to his clothes. We laud him for his actions and declare him a “righteous gentile.” And what about us? What about our lawmakers?

Not only is it wrong for Israel to pass a law punishing those who extend aid to refugees, but we must pass a law that amounts to the opposite of this – a law that requires the state to assist refugees and allocates resources to the organizations and individuals that do so.

That is the command left to us by the six million.

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