Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roi Klein

Last night I went to a Shabbat dinner.

You can tell already that this is not going to end well, can’t you. It never does.

Anyway, I was at this meal and we were talking about Japan and how selfless the guys trying to stop the nuclear crisis are. And how that is characteristic of Japanese society. And how we are not like that here. And then this guy—let’s call him E—at the table says: Roi Klein. The name rings a bell. Hey, I ask, isn’t that the war hero with the house that they want to tear down?

And…well…all hell breaks loose. You see, public opinion in respect to this case is that you cannot possibly tear down the house of a war hero. My hosts and fellow guests hold views in line with public opinion. I do not. My view—and I stated it— was that maybe, just maybe, there is something to be said for the rule of law in a society. And that no, the death of a soldier, even an extraordinarily selfless and heroic death, is not by definition reason to ignore the law. It may be. It may not be. It depends on the situation. But it is not a given. Suffice it to say that by the end of the meal I had been screamed at and branded as a demagogue by E.

Had I stayed a bit longer I suspect I could have collected a few other equally charming epithets. Instead, I made my escape and went home. I went to sleep. I woke up. And I was still pissed. But then I said, “Gila, what do you really know about this case apart from the sound bites you have heard on the news? Are you qualified to have an opinion? Go online and learn something”

So I did. And this is what I learned.
  1. Roi Klein’s house is located in Hayovel, an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
  2. In 2005, while a portion of the houses were still under construction, Peace Now filed suit claiming that the construction of 12 buildings on the site was illegal and the structures should be demolished.
  3. The government responded that there was already a demolition order. That is, from day one the government has agreed with Peace Now that the construction was illegal.
  4. In September 2005, Peace Now brought the case to the Supreme Court requesting that, if this if a demolition order exists, that the order be executed.
  5. Rather than actually responding to and dealing with the issue, since the date the case was initially filed the government has requested 30 extensions.
  6. In July 2006, Roi Klein was killed in action.
  7. The case, therefore, preceded Roi Klein's death. His death did not change any of the issues raised (ie. legality of outpost/ ownership of land/ existence of permits).
  8. Ergo, while what happened to him is indeed tragic, it is not relevant to the original suit. And that, contrary to public opinion, neither Peace Now nor the Supreme Court woke up one day and announced that it felt like persecuting widows and orphans, and by golly, the widow and orphans of Roi Klein would do just fine, thank you.
  9. In July 2009 the Supreme Court handed down its decision. The government was to give the residents of the outpost a chance to present any final arguments and—barring any new evidence coming to light—was to demolish the outpost.
Most of the above information is taken from the Peace Now website. The reason for this is that theirs is the only website that provided actual information: documents, copies of filings, the Supreme Court decision and so on. I tried to balance this out with information from the right but an hour of searching yielded nothing but the the requisite pictures of Roi Klein in Happier Times (with or without the widow and children) and verbiage to the effect that either the Supreme Court, the government, Peace Now or some combination thereof were a bunch of evil anti-Semites with no respect for the contributions of the fallen. What can I say…not so useful if the goal is to develop an understanding of the underlying issues in a lawsuit.

What conclusion did I come to? That this is not even an issue of whether or not a fallen soldier should be outside the law because this has very little to do with Roi Klein.

I believe that the members of the general population who decry the destruction of his house are sincere. But the politicians, the Right, the settlement movement? I do not. For them, Roi Klein has been turned into a useful tool for the drumming up of emotions and public fervor to support something they might not have supported otherwise. Lots of Israelis do not support the Right, the settlement enterprise and the whole Greater Israel movement, but what Israeli will not support a heroic and conveniently dead soldier? איזה יופי! Fantastic! Let’s latch an entire neighborhood to his back!

You see, that’s the rub—the other 11 houses. Had these same parties voiced reactions along the lines of “okay, the Supreme Court ruled against us and we accept it but please, leave Roi’s house standing” that would be one thing. I might disagree—again, just because he died it does not necessarily follow that we can ignore the law—but I would respect that the sentiment was sincere and was driven by a genuine desire to honor a man who made the ultimate sacrifice and to look after his family. (In fact, that is what Peace Now suggested.) Instead what is happening here is that the Right/ government/ settlement lost the case and have resorted to using a dead soldier’s sacrifice as a means of avoiding implementation of the ruling in respect to the entire settlement. Of getting what they want.

It is the lack of honesty and candor that gets to me. The deception. The concealment of one’s true goals behind a wall of propaganda. That and the hijacking of someone else’s sacrifice and suffering as a means of furthering their goals. Even if the wife agrees…. It is not their story. It is his. Even if he is dead, it belongs to him.

E. has claimed that I expressed a view that one cannot compare Roi’s act to that of the Japanese who are risking their lives to solve the crisis in the nuclear reactors. Not at all. You certainly can compare them. The question is whether you can compare how society treats such acts in the two societies. If, G-d forbid, one of the Japanese workers were to die from radiation poisoning, will Japanese society then be treated to an episode in which a large group of people demand to be exempted from the law because he died?

Somehow, I doubt it.