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Protest Speech By Admiral (Ret) Ami Ayalon, Atlit, Israel


June 2nd, 2023


For 22 weeks we have been taking to the streets to fight for the rule of law and democracy - and this week we failed!


The failure is not in the number of people crowding the squares. Nor is it in the astonishing determination in the face of increasing police violence, nor in the willingness to stand up to the leaders of the regime overhaul wherever they go to recite their delusional position!

We failed when we refused to acknowledge the constitutional moment when the IDF Chief of Staff knowingly carried out a directive from the Minister of Defense that violated the law!

On the night of May 30th-31st, settlers with the help of IDF soldiers moved the yeshiva that was built on private Palestinian land in Homesh, to adjacent state land, on the orders of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.


This move was carried out contrary to the position of the security establishment, which sees construction in the area as a source of intensifying Palestinian terror and a harm to security.


It is contrary to the principles established by the Supreme Court justices in the "Elon Moreh" ruling, where it was determined that civilian construction in Judea and Samaria may only be carried out according to security needs as determined by the military command.


It was carried out in violation of international law, contrary to a government promise given to the U.S. administration and in the shadow of protests by the international community.


We knew the details of the event - but we preferred to ignore it!

Today we have a duty to ask why!?


Admiral retired Ami Ayalon Protest speech Israel
Photograph by Ziv Oren, Shatil Stock

Could it be that we fell in love with the weekly ritual of gathering in the squares?!

Is it possible that we thought it was permissible in Homesh for elected officials and gatekeepers to break the law?!


And so today we have to go back and ask – what are we fighting for and why when the IDF Chief of Staff acts in violation of the law and contrary to his professional position as the one in charge of our security, none of us goes out to protest in the streets!?


On February 20th, 1950, 73 years ago, David Ben-Gurion writes in his diary... Only in a country where everyone – a citizen, a soldier, a clerk, a legislative minister, a judge and a policeman – is subject to the law and follows the law! Only in such a country is liberty guaranteed to the individual and the masses. To the person and the nation... In a country where there is no primacy of the law – there is no freedom in it even if the most vigorous and advanced liberty is incorporated in its constitution!... He concludes by stating:".. Oversight and law enforcement is in the hands of the judge! A judge who is not dependent on any man and regime, but on his conscience and understanding alone!"

That's the answer! We embarked on this fight in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary as the gatekeeper protecting Israel in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence!

We will win on the day that a constitution in Israel protects the independence of the judiciary and the values that we committed to in the Declaration of Independence, on the day we set out on this journey.


But make no mistake! The event at Homesh is a warning signal to us, the citizens of Israel, who are taking to the streets in defense of democracy and the rule of law! This is a warning sign that if not seen as a red line! All the slogans of democracy and rule of law will become hollow words.


I have no expectations of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who for years has been acting as if the law is a non-binding recommendation! A minister who to this day does not understand that standing behind a prime minister who directs a tirade at his judges in the courtroom can be considered contempt of court!


But we did, and still do expect the Chief of Staff to realize his mistake "as a gatekeeper"! We remind him today of his oath as a soldier in which he pledged to "maintain allegiance to the State of Israel and its laws..."Yes, its laws too! "...And to devote all his strength and even sacrifice his life in defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel!"


In our view, you pledged to defend our freedom! We expected you to make it clear to the Minister of Defense that only the guidance of the Attorney General would allow the IDF to comply with a directive that is contrary to the law and harms security!


We still expect the Chief of Staff to remember his promise to the reservists who joined the protest – that in any event of controversy, he will act only in accordance with the law!

But that's mostly our failure! We are taking to the streets as defenders of the rule of law and democracy. A few weeks ago, when the defense minister was fired, we shook the country when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to stop the move. And the constitutional crisis that took place this week before our eyes – we refused to see! We became blind!


None of us went out on the street!

In order to ensure that we do not fail again, that the slogans we chant do not become hollow, we must understand that democracy does not collapse only in the legislature and the courtroom. It slowly disintegrates in the dead of night! In "small decisions" sometimes outside the country's borders! In places we refuse to see!

In order to ensure that the event in Homesh becomes a red line, we must understand that the decisions in Homesh, outside the country, made by statesmen, judges and gatekeepers sworn to protect Israeli democracy - are shaping the democratic identity of the State of Israel!


The lesson today is that we must take to the streets wherever the law is broken! Wherever an Israeli soldier acts on our behalf and in any case where an elected official prefers his political survival to security and law enforcement considerations!


And we must remember that the struggle ahead of us will be prolonged and fraught with crises. It will have its ups and downs. But this is a struggle for Israel's identity, security and soul in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This is a fight we must win – if we understand that this is the lesson of the Homesh failure – we will win!


 

Ami Ayalon is an Israeli politician and a former member of the Knesset for the Labor Party. He was previously head of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, and commander-in-chief of the Navy.


Contributed by Ami Ayalon to USA for Israeli Democracy


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