Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dr. Aviad Hacohen

The rule of law above all

Dr. Aviad Hacohen

There is nothing new under the sun. When our forefather Abraham wanted to buy a burial plot in Kiryat Arba 4,000 years ago, he insisted on paying the full amount to Ephron the Hittite, a seasoned and sly real estate broker. King David did the same when he purchased property from Araunah the Jebusite, paying in full for the site where the Temple was eventually built. Our ancestors' pedantic adherence to all the conditions of the sales agreement was meant to stress the perennially important message that no goal, however important, ever sanctifies the means.

The Land of Israel is acquired through suffering, our Sages taught. But it is also acquired through justice, integrity and the rule of law. Even though the entire land of Israel was promised to Abraham and David by the highest authority, our forefathers also acquired it through legal means, and made sure not only to act justly, but to do so publicly. The actions of fathers, our Sages say, should be an important sign for their sons.

The evacuation of the Hebron house (known as Beit Hamachpela) was another chapter in the unending saga of the struggle over the legality of Jewish settlements. The slew of legal arguments and documents indicating that the house was purchased lawfully did not suffice to persuade the legal advisers to the Civil Administration, whose position was resolutely backed by the attorney-general.

We must assume that the courts will ultimately deal at length with who has legal ownership of the structure. At this point, however, now that an evacuation order has been issued, it is incumbent upon the settlers -- despite the sadness, pain, sweat and tears involved -- to respect and obey the order, and to continue their struggle through the proper channels.

Even though the attorney-general's status in this context has not been mandated by law, the High Court of Justice ruled many years ago that decisions by the attorney-general are not merely "good advice" or general guidelines, but instructions requiring all branches of government to implement them.

The High Court's incisive ruling in the Migron affair brings us back to first principles. There are no half-measures when it comes to the rule of law. Orders must be carried out promptly in accordance with their precise language, even when following them is painful and heart-wrenching.

The government of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the right thing by adhering to the rule of law even when it jeopardized some of their political support. Their decisive and tough actions conveyed an important point to the entire public: Without fear of the government, men would swallow each other alive (Ethics of the Fathers 3:2). Lack of law and order and a situation in which "every man does what is right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6) are a surefire recipe for anarchy.

Today, now that the law has been respected as it should, we need to act promptly and efficiently to determine who possesses the property rights to the Hebron house and to do justice for the house's legal owners.