MK Prof. Arieh Eldad on CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the leading philosophers of the 18th century, was among those who laid the foundations for modern democracy. In his book, “The Social Contract,” he warned of the danger in a majority decision on behalf of particularistic interests opposed to the common good. He determined that the decision of the majority in such circumstances is liable to be wrong as well as unjust.
Rousseau referred here to a situation in which the majority decision was reached in a proper way – while realizing that a forceful leader would be capable of imposing his will on the majority, to the point where it will submit to that will. In these circumstances, too, the minority is entitled to oppose the decision. All the more so, then, when we are dealing with a corrupt ruler and with a decision that was adopted by open bribery: for example, through the wholesale appointment of Government Ministers and Deputy Ministers, and through a campaign of dismissals and threats directed at those who refuse to toe the line. In circumstances like these, and when the nation’s ruler does a total turnabout, carries out a policy diametrically opposed to his pre-election commitments and then refuses to put his policy to the test of a public referendum – the minority remains with no choice except civil disobedience.
Remember Gandhi and King?
When, last week, I called for non-violent civil disobedience, my words were greeted with a hysterical chorus of reactions. Some – such as those that charged I was calling for armed rebellion, or was liable to lead to bloodshed – were simply demagoguery. Others testified to a lack of comprehension, or to an astonishing ignorance of the basic rules of democracy. In any event, I would like to clarify my words.
Non-violent civil disobedience means exactly what it says. This is precisely the kind of passive protest practiced by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the USA. They deliberately violated duly legislated laws of the land that were immoral or racist. And they earned undying respect for their civil disobedience.
The laws of “disengagement” are racist laws directed against 8,000 Jews. Moreover, they are flagrantly immoral, in that they violate the fundamental rights of those to be expelled from their homes. Hence there is a supreme moral imperative to break these laws in a non-violent fashion, and in readiness to pay a personal price – like going to jail, for example.
Non-violent civil disobedience can take many different forms: refusal to take part in the execution of the decrees and orders connected with the expulsion; blocking roads and highways; shutting down seaports and airports through massive sit-down strikes; organized time-offs from work by all opponents of the disengagement plan, in order to disrupt the operations of the government agencies dealing with its implementation; drawing police and military forces to places all over the country to deal with demonstrations and other protest actions, thus preventing them from taking part in the expulsion of the villagers in Gush Katif and Samaria – and this is just a partial list. To which I might add: If it’s okay for our labor federation, the Histadrut, to “shut down the country” because of the dismissal of a few hundred workers, it surely is a moral obligation to do so because of the expulsion of thousands from their homes and the destruction of everything they had built up over the years and decades.
A Badge of Honor
How would the authorities respond to such violations of the law? Well, they can arrest the lawbreakers and imprison them, possibly for extended periods of time. It stands to reason that, if the number of people arrested and jailed comes to a few dozen, these people will suffer the stigma of a criminal record, and being deprived of their freedom will constitute a significant punishment. If, however, thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – will have to be detained, the sting will in effect be removed, and their incarceration for the sake of the Land of Israel and the People of Israel will actually be a badge of honor.
What will the State do with thousands of students imprisoned with their teachers, and continuing with an intensive program of studies? Will the State fully cover the cost of their education and of the accommodation and upkeep of these students? And what will the State do with the thousands of soldiers who are going to do what Ariel Sharon has counseled them to do, and will go and tell their commanding officers that they are incapable of driving their brothers and sisters from their homes? How many prison camps will the State be prepared to set up in order to impose the ”tyranny of the majority” – which actually is nothing more than the tyranny of a handful of politicians who stole the votes of those who had elected them?
Non-violent civil disobedience is a moral and democratic tool of the highest order. Blind and indiscriminate obedience to every law, even when it has passed all the tests of legal legitimacy, has at times in the past thrown peoples and regimes into the darkest periods known in history. In the absence of a public referendum, the refusal to carry out racist and immoral laws, and the disruption of the implementation of these laws in non-violent ways, remains today our country’s last refuge in saving itself – from itself.
May 2, 2005 (Translation from the Hebrew by Moshe Aumann)