[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Democracy In The Middle East
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the army to remove a portion of the barrier it is constructing along the West Bank and to reroute other sections to reduce the burden on Palestinians. The lawsuit had been brought by Palestinians living in eight villages near Jerusalem, who are affected by the barrier. The Israeli Ministry of Defense immediately issued a statement that it would comply with the Court’s order.

The Court’s ruling only affects a small portion of the barrier, which consists almost entirely of an electronic fence with coils of razor wire. About five percent consists of the twenty-foot concrete wall the media usually depict.

In general, the Court condoned the building of the barrier as justified by Israel’s security interests. The unanimous decision by the three judges concluded that Israel has a genuine security reason for building the barrier, and it can expropriate land on the West Bank for it. At the same time, the Court ruled that the Defense Ministry “has a legal duty to balance properly between security considerations and humanitarian ones.”

This remarkable decision is an incredible example of a Middle Eastern country functioning as a genuine democracy and upholding the rule of law. Chief Justice Barak, writing for the Supreme Court, was clearly troubled by what the Court had decided. He explicitly recognized that in the short term this decision will not make easier Israel’s struggle against terrorists. “But there is no security without law,” he wrote.

It’s astounding to think about Palestinians being able to go into the Israeli courts and obtain relief. Palestinians were both pleased and surprised by the ruling. And indeed they should be. Nowhere else in the Middle East, and in very few countries in the entire world, would the institutions of the government permit a balancing of this type between human rights of foreigners and national security.

Israel has been living through a difficult time since the beginning of the intifada. Its decisions have sometimes been harshly criticized in the United States and in Europe, and everything it has done has not been perfect. On the other hand, there is no doubt that suicide bombings and other terrorists attacks have diminished markedly since Israel has begun construction of the barrier. All of that makes this decision even more remarkable.

Consider some other countries in the region. The governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia routinely trample the civil rights of their own citizens. No court would dare defy the government on these matters. In fact, the judiciary is merely an extension of the ruling powers.

This Israeli court ruling comes at the time when President Bush has launched his initiative to encourage Arab governments to move toward democracy. It comes at a time when we are seeking to develop democratic institutions in Iraq, where formerly a cruel tyrant ruled, who substituted murder, torture and rape for the rule of law. The Israeli democracy, reflected by this Supreme Court opinion, is one that other Middle Eastern nations should seek to emulate.

Most important, the Palestinians should learn the lesson that stable democratic institutions—which means a legislature and courts—are the bricks and mortar to build a society. From the moment Prime Minister Sharon announced his intention to withdraw from Gaza, Palestinian leaders should have moved to develop the democratic institutions to lay the ground work, first in Gaza and then in the West Bank, for an economically viable democratic state.

Instead, under the leadership (lack thereof might be a more apt term) by Chairman Arafat, no constructive actions have been taken along those lines. Instead, there has been bitter internal fighting with guns, not words, among various Palestinian factions. The tragedy is that they are about to miss a great opportunity to begin building a strong state.

The Palestinian experience, mirrored in other Arab countries, shows one of the real difficulties of democracy. The people with guns can’t always get their way. That’s one of the lessons from the Israeli Supreme Court decision. The Israeli army has the guns, but it can’t get it’s own way on where to build the security barrier.

In Justice Barak’s words, “a democracy must sometimes fight with one arm tied behind her back. Even so…the rule of law and individual liberties constitute an important aspect of her security stance.”

These words should be disseminated by Arab television stations. They’re more constructive than stories about the beheading of another hostage.