Monday, March 14, 2011

Justice must come before peace - by Judge Jim Gray

Probably the biggest tinderbox in the world today is the Holy Land, with the problems between Israel and Palestine continuing to deteriorate. But before I say more, I want to affirm as forcefully as I can that I completely support Israel and its right to exist, live peacefully, and thrive.

Some people will misunderstand my suggestions, and some may even do so intentionally. But having said that, the best way for peace in Israel to be obtained is to provide justice to the Palestinians!

How would you feel if you had a friend whose house was bulldozed by the Israeli government because one of their family members was suspected of harboring a terrorist? Often, according to the Palestinians, this happens with no notice, hearing, charges or redress!

How would you feel if you were born in a "temporary relocation camp" 30 years ago and are still living there?

How would you feel if you had lost your job because it was on one side of the security wall and you lived on the other, and it takes hours to get from one side to the other? And how would you feel if your loved one was injured, but soldiers would not allow her ambulance to cross through a security checkpoint to get to a hospital?

If these things were to happen to me, I probably would first try to approach some government officials and request more understanding. If that didn't work, and it most likely would not, then I would probably write some letters and carry some picket signs in protest. If that didn't work, and it most likely would not, my actions might escalate into joining groups of people with similar grievances, maybe even start throwing rocks at soldiers. I believe all of these things would be natural human responses that would evolve from genuine frustration.

I hope I would be sensible enough never to be manipulated into lobbing grenades at civilians or becoming a suicide bomber, but I could see that others could be led into these acts as well. Radical actions can come from people who lose their dignity and hope. In fact, it is a truism that there is no one more dangerous in the world than one who has nothing left to lose. So I can see how this has happened to some Palestinians.

Having said all of that, I truly also share the frustrations of the Israelis as well. For many years, and in many and repeated ways, they have tried to reach agreements with the Palestinians, including several occasions in which they implemented unilateral disengagement plans. But it is virtually impossible for the Israelis to work out disagreements or implement plans for peace when they do not have responsible people to deal with who actually represent the Palestinians. To that effect, I believe that Yasser Arafat, whom I view as almost entirely corrupt, more deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for dying in 2004, than he did for reaching his "agreement" with Yitzhak Rabin in the Oslo Accords in September 1993.

So how can peace come to that truly troubled land? The best way to de-radicalize any area is to implement a system of justice for everyone. This will have a neutralizing effect, and lead to more positive and lasting results. Maybe the Palestinians can form a responsible government that can control their more radical elements and even govern effectively, and maybe not. But regardless of that outcome, that should not keep all people subject to the Israeli government's jurisdiction from being able to have their grievances pursued and resolved in a fair and neutral setting.

For almost the entirety of my time sitting as a judge in Orange County I had a hand-printed sign on my bench that said "There Can Be No Peace in a Land without Justice." I used it to remind myself that each case I had was important to someone, and every decision I made would affect those people and also their views about our government. So I tried to do my best with every ruling under the facts and law of the case, and to explain my conclusions. People actually can accept losing, but what they cannot accept is laws applied in an unbalanced or arbitrary fashion. And what is true regarding the people in our country is also true for people everywhere else.

The American government can help, in fact, it can help where probably no one else can. But for years the perception has been with all Arab countries that our government has ratified the actions of the government of Israel, regardless of its merits. And that has resulted in our government relinquishing its moral authority to be a leader in that area of the world, and with some justification. But just because we have disagreements with the Israeli government on some issues does not at all mean that we do not support Israel's security, any more than when a husband and wife disagree about financial decisions means that they do not love and support each other.

Actually, my wife and I have a trip planned to the Holy Land in July, so maybe I will change my perceptions during my visit, although I doubt it. I will report back to you again on this subject after we return. But in the meantime, I encourage everyone to project themselves into the position of all of the people in the Holy Land: Palestinian and Israeli alike. Justice in our country, coupled with the appearance of justice, has gone a long way in defusing racial strife and violence, and it will do the same thing in the wonderful but deeply troubled land of Israel and Palestine.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at or Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

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