The government of Israel fiercely maintains its rejectionist stance toward any political accommodation with the Palestine Liberation Organization. This is not merely a diplomatic posture, but undergirds the ideological structure of its policies of dispossession and occupation. Ha’aretz reported last June that close to 50,000 Palestinians have been jailed in the first 18 months of the uprising. The number continues to climb — some 250 administrative detention orders in October alone, according to the DataBase Project on Palestinian Human Rights, plus the many arrests stemming from Bayt Sahour’s tax revolt. A great many of these tens of thousands of people were imprisoned for one reason: “membership in an illegal organization” — i.e., one of the groups which comprise the PLO.
The United States, its lavish military aid program to Israel unencumbered by any serious wish to substantiate the “peace process,” indulges this policy of rejectionism and helps to finance this mass incarceration. Since Israel needs to make no accounting of the $1.2 billion it receives in US “economic support” assistance, US taxpayers are, at least indirectly, picking up the $60 million bill which Al-Hamishmar reports the Israeli army has spent to build prisons and detention centers in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of the uprising.
Official Israeli rejectionism is not shared by all of that country’s Jewish citizens, but the policy has been used to persecute and imprison those who dare to meet with PLO leaders in the search for political accommodation. A group of Israeli Jewish journalists connected with the weekly Derech HaNitzotz were arrested in the spring of 1988, subjected to psychological torture and eventually sentenced to prison terms. In another case, Reuven Kaminer, Latif Dori, Yael Lotan and Eliezer Feiler were convicted, fined and sentenced for meeting with PLO representatives in Europe. Abie Nathan, the veteran peace activist, recently received a six-month term for a similar offense against official intransigence. Because of his popularity in Israel, Nathan was given the option of doing community service. With dignity, he refused and went to prison.
Michel Warshavsky is far less well known than Nathan to the Israeli public. In February 1987, police raided the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, which Warshavsky headed, hauled off the Center’s files, equipment and computer diskettes, and then brought indictments against Warshavsky on four counts of supporting a “banned” and “terrorist” organization. The court cleared Warshavsky of the three more serious charges of supporting a terrorist organization. He was convicted, though, on one count, and on November 7, 1989, the Jerusalem district court sentenced him to a 20-month jail term with no possibility of parole, a 10-month suspended sentence, and a $5,000 fine. His crime: providing typesetting services for a booklet in Arabic that included guidelines to help arrested Palestinian activists resist the often brutal interrogation techniques of the Israeli secret services. The pamphlet contained a preface signed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Warshavsky’s harsh sentence evidently stemmed from his steadfast refusal to divulge the name of the person who had commissioned the typesetting job.
This pattern of attacks to silence Israeli Jewish opponents of the occupation suggests that the government of Israel sees its own ideological hold on the country’s Jewish population to be eroding. If the authorities need to arrest and imprison critics whose impact on society seems marginal, then perhaps they are no longer so marginal after all. It is high time that those of us in the United States who oppose Washington’s complicity in the war against the Palestinians take steps to further delegitimize those policies here as well.