Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 28/33
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7. "The Courage to Preserve Civil Liberties" 161

In discussing the chasm between the real and professed concerns for freedom of expression among political commentators in chapter 5, I compared the reaction to the legal structures and practices in the enemy state of Nicaragua and in the state that dwarfs all others in the scale of U.S. aid and support, "the symbol of human decency," as the New York Times editors described it while soldiers and settlers were conducting pogroms in villages and refugee camps under the official policy of "force, might, beatings." It is the State of Israel, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan observes, that "provides the best hope for building a jurisprudence that can protect civil liberties against the demands of national security" and may provide us with "the expertise to reject the security claims that Israel has exposed as baseless and the courage to preserve the civil liberties that Israel has preserved without detriment to its security."

Some examples of the Israeli record, and the U.S. reaction to it, have already been reviewed. A closer look provides further insight into the real attitudes towards freedom of expression among those most outspoken in condemning official enemies.

Israeli censorship is very broad. Wiretapping by the military and censorship of mail are routine and unconcealed. People report actual interruption of telephone calls by censors; one letter of mine reached the addressee with the word "nivdak" ("inspected") stamped on the envelope, with a date. Press censorship extends far beyond security matters, including coverage of what are termed "hostile organizations," water supplies, road conditions, loans to Israel, nuclear research, border settlements, and aerial photographs; it also covers previously published material.162

Censorship is particularly harsh in the occupied territories, where it reaches such extremes as banning notices and press releases of the respected human rights group Law in the Service of Man (Al-Haq) and articles describing its human rights work, on grounds that these are "likely to disturb the public peace"; arrest of union leaders for pamphlets educating Palestinians about their work rights, and closing of print shops on grounds of the need "to guarantee public safety" (General Amram Mitzna, July 28, 1987); detention of journalists without charge, or expulsion; the jailing of a Palestinian artist for having painted a picture that uses the colors of the Palestinian flag; and so on. Similar measures are applied in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel and theoretically subject to Israeli laws. Telephone connections are often cut and distribution of journals banned as a means of collective punishment and control of information. When the Palestine National Council issued its independence declaration in Algiers in November 1988, the government cut telephone and power lines to the West Bank and Gaza to prevent access by radio or television and banned public celebrations, while the U.S. media scoffed that the declaration was aimed at the American public. On that occasion, the government also censored news broadcasts within Israel to protect the public from hearing the Algiers declaration and Arafat's statements, at the request of Defense Minister Rabin, though Israeli Television did present Arabist Ehud Ya'ari to rebut the banned material.163

Arab journalists are routinely arrested and imprisoned for months without charge, sometimes in the grim prison camp Ketziot-Ansar 3 in the Negev. Often the arrests appear to be capricious. One among the many Arab journalists imprisoned was Nahida Nazzal, a resident of the village of Kalkilya (subject to regular terror and curfew). She was arrested in the Jerusalem office of Al-Awdah, where she wrote on society and family matters. She had dealt with no political topics and had never been involved in any political activities. After five months' imprisonment under terrible conditions, she still had no idea what the charges might be. There may well be none; the intent is probably general intimidation. A particular target is journalists, lawyers, and others who have been in contact with Israeli doves and who seek political settlement. On the other hand, fundamentalist religious leaders who circulate rabid anti-Semitic propaganda are left untouched, the residue of a policy of support for uncompromising religious fundamentalist elements in preference to secular nationalists who seek political settlement. In 1988 the Institute for Family Welfare in El-Bireh, which had operated for twenty years, was closed by the security forces, and its sixty-five-year-old chairperson, Samikha Khalil, was arrested and charged with "incitement against the state, an attempt to influence public opinion in a way which will cause harm to peace and public order, and possession and distribution of hostile material." The specific charges submitted to the military court of Ramallah were that in ceremonies within her institution she had made a "V" sign and that she had "made speeches in which she emphasized the connection between the Palestinian people and its land with the hope of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state." She was also accused of participating in the writing of a book entitled Intifadah, which was not published, and having in her possession a copy of a widely circulated Cyprus journal.164

The measures of coercion and control are applied without mercy, as in the case of Mahmoud al-Hatib, editor of the Jerusalem journal Al-Shaab, a "gifted journalist" expelled in 1974, Pinhas Inbari reports. His sons founded the Jerusalem journal Al-Mithaq, since closed by the state authorities, a journal that was critical of the policies of Israel, Jordan, and the PLO. Al-Hatib lived in Amman, where he had "refrained from any political activity in the hope that someone would have pity upon him" and permit him to see his family again. In November 1987, he was allowed to return to his home in Jerusalem for a week when his wife died. He was then again expelled to Jordan, where "the old father lives isolated and alone, without a family," unable to visit his children in Jerusalem, who are also forbidden to visit him. All appeals were rejected.165

Within the pre-1967 borders, draconian laws also apply, usually against Arabs as in several cases already mentioned, and sometimes against Jews as well, including banning of theatrical productions in recent years. It has long been predicted that the repressive practices of the harsh military occupation would spill over to Israeli Jews as well, and as Palestinian resistance increased, the signs began to appear. In March 1987, the American-Israeli Civil Liberties Coalition addressed a letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir protesting "the closing of the Alternative Information Center [by police in West Jerusalem on February 16], the suspension of [its publication] News from Within, the arrest of its staff, and the extended incarceration of [editor] Michael Warshavsky," at first "in solitary confinement without reading or writing materials." The letter noted further that "it is probably not irrelevant that Michael Warshavsky is married to Lea Tsemel, one of the two women Jewish lawyers who regularly represent Palestinians, and that the Center disseminated otherwise unavailable information about government actions in the territories to the Israeli and foreign press." The Israeli Embassy in Washington responded to inquiries on the matter with letters claiming that the Center "cynically used the masquerade of `journalism' solely to obfuscate its intelligence-gathering function on behalf of the notorious `Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,' the PLO terrorist gang led by George Habash." The closure of a "terrorist front" and its director are "not an infringement of `civil liberties.' No one has a civil liberty to assist in the violent destruction of the State of Israel." The actual charge was that Warshavsky arranged for the typesetting of a PFLP manuscript "advising members of the PFLP how to withstand detention and security service interrogations" (i.e., torture) and articles for "PFLP periodicals illegally distributed in the territories," and others unspecified; and that he had in his possession unspecified documents of the PFLP.166 Prosecution is pending as I write. Closure of the offices merited brief notice in the New York Times.167

In 1988, the Hebrew journal Derech Hanitzotz was shut down and its editors arrested. Bail was denied on grounds that they had "crossed the borders of the national consensus" (Judge Barak), as distinct from the soldiers of the Givati Brigade who had beaten Hani al-Shami to death or near-death in his home but were released, not having crossed these borders. Its Arabic-language sister journal was also closed. Its editor, Ribhi al-Aruri, was adopted as an Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience" after he was given six months' detention without charge and interrogated with torture, he alleges; the detained Jewish editors also allege torture and inhuman treatment.168

One of the charges against the editors is "contact with a foreign agent," illegal under Israeli law. In June 1988, four Israeli Jews were convicted under this law, charged with having conducted a political discussion with Palestinians in Rumania. The court agreed that the meeting was solely "devoted to the subject of peace," but held that "a country in a state of emergency has [the] right" to curtail citizens' rights by barring political discussion on reaching peace with members of an organization designated as "terrorist."169 Discussions of political settlement are, in fact, considered particularly threatening.

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161 Addendum to p. 130.

162 See special, NYT, Oct. 26, 1988, where the facts are acknowledged in a story on the suspension of press credentials for three foreign correspondents who had reported operations of Israeli death squads in the occupied territories.

163 Al-Haq Newsletter, March/April 1987, July/August 1987; Marty Rosenbluth, "Harassing Palestinian unions," Middle East International, Nov. 7, 1987; Amnon Barzilai, "Danger: a Painter," Ha'aretz, Dec. 21, 1984. See also, among others, Shirley Eber, "Censorship in the Middle East," Third World Affairs, 1988, with many examples. Shyam Bhatia, Observer (London); Jerusalem Post, Nov. 17; Avigdor Feldman, Hadashot, Nov. 18; Daniel Williams, LAT, Nov. 20, 1988. See also Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists Under Occupation (New York, 1988).

164 Irit Nahmani, Hadashot, Aug. 29, 1988; Khaled Abu-Tuama, Yerushalayim, Nov. 11, 1988. The policy of supporting fundamentalist extremists has come under severe criticism. Pinhas Inbari writes that Israel is making the same mistake in the occupied territories that it made in southern Lebanon, where "the sapping of Palestinian nationalism's strength led to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism," a far more dangerous force. In the occupied territories, he warns, Israel may undermine the PLO, but "those who didn't want to talk with Arafat will have to do battle with Khomeini" (Al Hamishmar, Sept. 15, 1988).

165 Inbari, Al-Hamishmar, Nov. 27, 1987.

166 Appeal, Attorney Avigdor Feldman.

167 NYT, Feb. 18, 1987.

168 Oren Cohen, Hadashot, March 24; Peretz Kidron, Middle East International, May 14; AP, May 25; News from Within (Jerusalem), July 10, 1988.

169 Statement by the defendants, July 1988.