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Half a democracy by Ha'aretz Daily
Posted on January 26, 2003

By Gideon Levy

What sort of democracy is this, if exactly half the state's residents don't benefit from it? Indeed, can the term "democratic" be applied to a state in which many of the residents live under a military regime or are deprived of civil rights? Can there be democracy without equality, with a lengthy occupation and with foreign workers who have no rights? And what about the racism?

The storm that was engendered by the leak of a document to the press by an attorney in the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office, Liora Glatt-Berkovich, and by the police interrogation, under caution to boot, of Ha'aretz correspondent Baruch Kra was perfectly justified. More and more cracks are becoming apparent in the democratic regime. Kra's interrogation was an ominous portent, the all-out assault on attorney Glatt-Berkovich is terrifying, and the conduct of the attorney-general, Elyakim Rubinstein, is disgraceful.

We must not lightly let these phenomena pass by. We must not forget that the entire structure is wobbly. Once Israel became an occupying state, it ceased to be a democracy. There is no such thing: Israel's claims about its democratic character are empty boasts. Just as there is no such thing as a partial pregnancy, there is no such thing as a partial democracy, either.

No democracy exists only as far as a particular territorial line within the country, and no democracy is reserved exclusively for a particular religion or nationality. In a truly democratic regime, everyone enjoys his freedoms and rights in equal measure. That is not the case in Israel.

More than 10 million people live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, in the state and in its occupied territories. The separation between the occupied areas and the state is anachronistic: Israel has existed for far more years with the occupation than without it, and the territories are an integral part of it, with all this entails. Some 3.5 million Palestinians have been living under a brutal, rigorous military occupation for well over three decades. Surely no one will try to claim that they are free. Another 300,000 to 400,000 foreign workers live among us and are also without basic rights. They, too, are not part of a democracy.

Nor can anyone serious maintain that the 1.3 million Arabs who live in Israel are equal citizens. With the exception of the right to vote and the right to stand for office, which was almost taken from some of their representatives this month, there is hardly a sphere in which they can be said to be citizens of a democracy. They are discriminated against in every realm of life, and they are excluded from the democratic public discourse. One of their newspapers was recently shut down for two years by the interior minister and a mass movement of the Arab population is under threat of being outlawed. "Democracy" doesn't seem to be the appropriate word here, either.

Even some of the new immigrants do not share in Israeli democracy. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces named Michael Gorkin cannot become an Israeli citizen only because he is not a Jew. The father of an immigrant from Ethiopia named Yisraeli Isham could not attend his daughter's wedding because the Interior Ministry cast doubt on his Jewishness. A regime that treats its people in this way cannot be called democratic.

What's left? Democracy exists only for the state's (proven) Jewish residents. That is, for about 5.3 million people, half of the 10.6 million people who live here. They are the only intended beneficiaries of the rule of law, freedom of expression, civic freedoms, equality before the law and a fair and just legal system.

Cracks have appeared in this democracy of late. The rule of law has been breached, the corruption scandals and the way they have been treated are raising serious questions, the government is trying to intimidate the press, social justice is a lost cause and equality, too, is far from being a fact.

We have to fight with all our might to get rid of all these ills, but, above all, the lying impression that we are democratic must be quashed. It is impossible to be both occupiers and democrats; there is no such thing as enlightened exploiters and racists. Those are unresolvable contradictions, flagrant oxymorons. Even if propriety is restored and the attorney-general no longer betrays his trust, the Supreme Court becomes a beacon of justice, the Knesset enacts only just laws and the government rules according to the law, the conditions for democracy will not yet exist in Israel.

On the day after tomorrow, when tanks guard the voters in Yitzhar and other West Bank settlements, when curfew protects the election process in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, when thousands of soldiers will defend the roads on which the polling stations will be transported and when foreign workers with no rights will sweep our streets, we should remember that this is half a democracy, no more.

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