How an aid worker disrupted Israel’s apartheid routine

On Wednesday afternoon, the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted Mohammed Halabi, a prominent Palestinian humanitarian aid worker, of funneling funds to Hamas while serving as head of the Gaza office….

On Wednesday afternoon, the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted Mohammed Halabi, a prominent Palestinian humanitarian aid worker, of funneling funds to Hamas while serving as head of the Gaza office of the international charity World Vision. The case involved six years of imprisonment for Halabi despite no conviction, peppered with over 160 court hearings. An audit by the Australian government, one of World Vision’s major donors, found no evidence to back Israel’s allegations. All the while, Israel refused to disclose substantial proof of its charges, hiding instead behind the pretext of “secret evidence.”

Halabi’s ordeal is a notorious example of Israel’s grotesque conception of “due process” for Palestinians. When it comes to prisoners and detainees, the Israeli courts (both military and civil) are almost always banking on the security agencies to pressure Palestinians into taking a plea deal, even if the deal involves a period of continued imprisonment. These bargains are often reached through direct or indirect coercion, including under the threat of indefinite incarceration, through procedural and legal manipulations (such as signing confessions in Hebrew despite not knowing the language), and physical and psychological torture.

The Israeli authorities clearly expected this routine to play out with World Vision’s Gaza director. But for the past six years, Halabi has been calling their bluff by insisting on his innocence and refusing to accept a deal — at great personal cost. Baffled by his resolve, wary of clashing with the security establishment, and running out of excuses to delay the process further, the court seems to have finally stepped in to absolve the prosecution of its failures. As far as Israel is concerned, Halabi is now just another one of the thousands of Palestinians it locks behind bars every year, a minor disturbance in the banal machinery of apartheid.

That banality, though, received a stark shake-up last week when, in a mind-boggling twist of political norms, the Knesset failed to renew an emergency regulation that formally applies separate legal systems between Israeli settlers and Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank. The existence of the regulation, which has been reinstated every five years since the occupation began in 1967, came as surprising news even to many seasoned observers of Israeli politics; its renewal was so routine that it had basically become a mundane procedure unworthy of attention — until former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to politicize the law in order to undermine the Bennett-Lapid coalition that ousted him.

Ironically, both the Halabi verdict and Netanyahu’s sabotage of the emergency law have exposed the fallacies that prop up Israel’s seemingly complex legal regime. When Halabi dared the Israeli justice system to back up its accusations with serious proof, the system had no legs to stand on other than unaccountable power. And as Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man wrote on +972, Netanyahu, too, demonstrated how the occupation’s legal infrastructure could easily be picked apart, ultimately relying on brutal violence to preserve itself. In both cases, the tapestry of laws that adorns Israel’s image of “democracy” was revealed to be nothing more than a cloak for authoritarian rule.

What is required, then, is a disruption of the banality that enables these charades. Indeed, a key pillar of Israeli apartheid’s survival has been its ability to normalize its absurd machinery, pacifying resistance in thought and practice while gaslighting the world into believing its oppression is justified. Israel is now using that same playbook against the six Palestinian NGOs that it declared “terrorist organizations” last year — which, as +972’s investigative reporting unveiled, was just as unfounded as in Halabi’s conviction. The international community knows this well, but must be pushed into acting on it. If there is a lesson to be taken from this past week, it is that dismantling apartheid could be easier than we think — it just requires the will to do so.