The Border, the Law and Peace

Against the Current, No. 25, March/April 1990

Michel Warshawski

Michel Warshawski, a prominent Israeli antiwar, anti-occupation and socialist activist, was convicted in November and sentenced to twenty months imprisonment for the crime of providing typesetting services for a Palestinian organization. An interview with Warshawski on the trial, and his analysis of the accomplishments of the Palestinian intifada, appeared in ATC 21. Widespread outrage in Israel regarding the harsh sentence has caused it to be suspended pending an appeal to be heard this spring. That is now in the courts.

Michel Warshawski addressed a solidarity meeting in his honor on November 12, 1989, shortly following the verdict The text of his talk partially reprinted here, appeared in News From Within, November 29, 1989.—The Editors

I WOULD LIKE to dedicate the available time to one concept that appeared again and again throughout my trial and also occupies a central place in the court’s decision, namely the concept of “the border.” I myself coined it and only later did my judges begin making use of it.

The concept of border is indeed a key to understanding the trial, both the defense and the decision of the court.

There is the bonier that I refuse to cross. The Lebanon border, for example, which along with my friends from Yeah Gvul (an Israeli soldiers’ and reservists’ movement) I refused three times to cross. Twice I sat in jail for refusing to cross this border.

This border I openly refuse to cross, with readiness to face the consequence and pay the price, since the refusal to cross this border and participate in an immoral war—like the refusal to perform military service in the heart of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories—is a political expression that is done publicly.

Another border was erected in my trial, when I was required to give the name of the person who gave me the booklet for typesetting. I clarified to my judges that I can’t cross this border and that I’m ready to pay the price for it.

There is no connection between this refusal and the nature of the person whose name I will not give, and there is no difference if he is a friend or an enemy, a person in danger or a person who doesn’t have anything to fear. We are talking here about a categorical imperative that I was brought up on in my father’s home [in France—ed.], and that is related to the joint values of my religious education and my socialist viewpoint.

My refusal to cross this border served as a basis for proving my lack of innocence and shut eyes [the judges cited Warshawski’s refusal to inform in ruling that he “shut his eyes” to the “illegality” of a booklet advising Palestinian prisoners on how to resist torture under interrogation—ed.].

The Law Is a Border

The law is also a border, which divides the permitted from the prohibited. Along with my comrades in the struggle, I chose to respect this border.

I am not an underground fighter, as was my father, who fought with weapons in hand against the Nazis. I’m also not a suitcase carrier, as were many of my best friends in France who endangered their liberty while materially assisting the Algerian liberation fighters, and many of them paid quite a heavy price for it.

They chose to disobey the law; I, not Together with my comrades I chose to keep to the existing law, however defective it might be. We do so from an evaluation that the existing regime ensures us—the Jews among us—of a large degree of freedom and democratic rights, and the possibility, however defective, to organize for our political viewpoint, which calls for a fundamental change of regime.

In the contract of sorts between me and the state, lam interested in keeping my part, that is, respecting the limits of the law. More than a simple practical attitude, I believe in the need to maintain the relative democratic infrastructure, with the aim of widening it and not exchanging it for a regime that suppresses any liberties.

However, within the borders of the law, I chose to be precisely on the border. The fundamental assumption behind a democratic regime is that everything not prohibited is considered galat kosher (strictly proper). This is the difference between democracy and totalitarianism.

If people don’t know how to keep their rights, they forsake them to the arbitrariness of the rulers and turn them into prohibitions and additional limitations on our liberties. On the issue of rights, the abandonment of a stronghold always brings its occupation by the other side. Therefore, rights shouldn’t be abandoned and should be fought for with your teeth.

We have been doing this in Jerusalem by struggling for the right to demonstrate. We have stretched the border more and more, we were ready to be detained, we appealed to the courts, we were put on trial, but we didn’t give up our rights, and we have thus attained rights that in other parts of the country are still considered impermissible.

By stretching the line of the border we enlarge our rights; by loosening it and staying far from it, we limit our rights. Therefore I refuse to stand far from the border, in a safe place in the middle. Only on the border of the law can we widen our rights and expand our freedom.

The Border Between Us

And there is another border, maybe the most significant for me: the border that separates the two peoples of this land, between Israel and Palestine. This is a border of friction, of war, of confrontation, but this border is also the meeting place of the two peoples, and therefore you ought to stand on it so as to extend your hand in return for the one extended to you.

I have never stood for an Israeli-Palestinian peace that would be only a kind of cease-fire, a kind of “leave me alone and I will leave you in peace.” An Israeli-Palestinian peace can only be a peace of cooperation, of togetherness, or it won’t be at all. And we should begin building the “togetherness” from today–in dialogues, in cooperation, in solidarity.

All these are impossible to do from a safe place in the middle of the national consensus, or from the center of the Israeli left. You build the Israeli-Palestinian partnership on the border, and only on the border.

I am proud that the political organization to which I have belonged for 22 years [Warshawski was a founder of Matzpen and is a leader of the Revolutionary Communist League—ed.] was always the first to open the way for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. Our comrade Khaleel Tu’mee was the first Israeli—in this case a Palestinian Israeli–imprisoned after the occupation because he tried, on mission of our organization, to find ways to make contacts and talk with Palestinians from the occupied territories. He was sentenced in 1968 to eighteen months for meeting with Tayseer Kuba, the chair of the students’ association in the West Bank.

We were also the first to meet with Sa’eed Hammaini and Issam Sartawi [Palestinian representatives, both assassinated in the 1970s by the Abu Nidal group—ed.] long ago, before it was fashionable, and many years before the Knesset even dreamt of legislating the Amendment to the Prevention of Terror ordinance [prohibiting all contacts of Israeli citizens with the PLO—ed.].

In the mid-1970s we were the first to make connections to the students at Bir Zeit University and paved the way for the Committee in Solidarity with Bir Zeit University. In the Bir Zeit Committee, we were among the first to push for widening the solidarity toward the refugee camps as well, and we made Dheisheh camp the focus for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.

In the middle of the 1980s we established, together with Faisal Husseini, who sits near me, the first framework for joint struggle against the occupation—the Committee Against the Iron Fist—and with the same spirit the Alternative Information Center was established in 1984, a joint framework for Israeli and Palestinian activists. [Faisal Husseini, director of the Arab Studies Society in East Jerusalem, has served several six-month terms of detention without charges or trial because of his work with Israeli peace activists—ed.]

All these couldn’t have been done from the center—from the heart of Israeli society and its consensus. If I’ve contributed even a little to Israeli-Palestinian peace, it was because of this standing on the border and taking the first steps on the way of dialogue and cooperation. I refuse to be the border guard. My will is to continue and be the one who breaks through the fences of hate and the walls of separation.

I apologize for the analogy, but I see myself as one of the breakthrough unit that sometimes must lie on the fence, and on whose backs the pioneering force passes through and widens the gap in the fence, to pave the way for the larger attacking force. The casualties among the breakthrough unit are rather high, but this is their role.

New Relationships

My big comfort is that one can already see the pioneering force behind us and alongside us: not yet the battalions of the peace camp, but definitely hundreds who are crossing the fence, and in a variety of ways establishing a new fabric of relationships between Israel and Palestine, from diplomatic talks to joint activities. My conviction is aimed first of all at them, and at you.

Many of those present here are not partners to my political course, or to the extent of my proximity to the border. In spite of this, my verdict is directed at you who are approaching the border, as a warning sign: Beware of the border! It’s as if my judges said to the Beita Committee, Women Who Support Political Prisoners, activists of Kay Yarok (Green Line, a new joint Israeli-Palestinian committee):

“We warn you, the border is a dangerous area, keep far from it. This time Mikado [Warshawski’s nickname–ed.] has received a light punishment of twenty months in prison, but next time it will be much more costly. Don’t come close to the border!”

I’m not one of those who think that judges receive orders from the political system or the Shin Bet [special police, Israel’s FBI—ed.]. However, I have no doubt that they absorb in their regular contact with the system the values and norms that it is interested in introducing. And they broadcast it further in their court decisions.

One of the values the political system feels it must establish today as part and parcel of its policy is that any Palestinian ought to be considered a terrorist Not only the PLO, and not only this or that organization, but every girl who demonstrates and every youngster who throws a stone. Therefore, the blood of every Palestinian youngster in the territories is free for the taking and it’s permissible to shoot them with the aim to kill.

Because of this, they are determined to strengthen the separating border between Israelis and Palestinians and to stop any process that blurs the border and proves on the ground that Palestinians can be partners to a dialogue and to the struggle for peace.

Didn’t the prosecutor in the trial of Abie Natan [a broadcaster and peace activist serving  a six-month term for meeting with PLO leaders—ed.] state that “citizens who have unauthorized contacts and talks with the enemy hurt the security of the state … because they bring about the de-demonization of Arafat”? The crime is de-demonization—relating to any Palestinian as an image [of god—a religious reference—ed.], and not as a monster.

The entire establishment sets the choice for every one of you: either accept the policy of rejection, keep your distance from the border and contribute, even if passively, to turning every Palestinian child into a monster, or you continue on your way, the way of Abie Natan, the way of the Romanian and Hungarian accused [activists tried for meeting with PLO representatives in Romania and Hungary—ed.] and my way, and search for ways of dialogue as close as possible to the confrontation border, which is also the border of peace.

For Ourselves and Our Future

And I must confess here that I have a good feeling: the message of the court will not be absorbed, and the deterrent won’t work, because for many thousands in our society, this border has become an anachronism, and the equation that says a Palestinian is equal to terror is ridiculous.

This meeting is a live and moving proof. On my right is sitting Abu el-Abed (Faisal Husseini) and on my left Lea (Tsemel, defense lawyer, married to Warshawski),and in front of me a varied public of secular and religious, Zionists and anti-Zionists, veterans and newcoming peace activists—all of whom have broken the hate and rejection blockade.

Thousands of you have crossed the border of fear and confrontation, some through meetings, some through organizing material solidarity, some on the humanitarian level, and some on, the political level. Our small opening in the fence has become a paved way, and the day is not far when it will become a wide international highway.

With this knowledge I will enter jail with a much lighter heart, and for this alone I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart For the rest, for the many moving expressions of solidarity, I will not express thanks, since it is not for me but for yourselves, and for the future of our children, that you are doing it.

March-April 1990, ATC25

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