NO TO SETTLER RADIO - Gush Shalom appeals to the Supreme Court

Gush Shalom asks the court to halt government plans for creation of a so-called “regional radio” for settlers. As a cover-up for legalizing a settler pirate radio station (Arutz-7) a tender was issued by the government on the basis of military decrees which threaten basic democratic principles.

The Supreme Court was requested to issue a temporary order halting all the tender procedures pending final verdict.

The appeal, lodged on behalf of Gush Shalom by advocates Gabi Lasky and Smadar Ben Nathan, is aimed at the Minister of Communications, at the Second Broadcasting Authority and its chair Nurit Dabush, and at the commander of IDF forces on the West Bank. Gush Shalom asks the judges to order all of these to show cause why they would not abrogate the radio station tenders themselves and seriously faulty legal documents on whose basis the tender was issued. Specifically, Gush Shalom takes issue with the clause expressly permitting the former operators of pirate radio stations to present themselves as candidates for operating the new legal one. Gush Shalom also asks the Supreme Court for a temporary order halting all the tender procedures pending final verdict.

The settler radio tender was published on August 2 this year, following intensive lobbying and years-long pressures by extreme-right Knesset Members, ever since the settler pirate station Arutz 7 was closed by court order. The final date given for presenting candidatures to the tender is Thursday this week (October 18). The Minister of Communications, a member of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, coupled this tender with a tender for operating a radio station aimed at "The Torah-Observant Sephardi Public", which is plainly aimed at legalizing the so-called "Holy Channels", the pirate radio stations allied to the Shas Party. An appeal against that tender was already lodged some weeks ago.

In its appeal Gush Shalom notes that The West Bank ("Judea and Samaria" as the tender calls it) is an Occupied Territory under International Law, in which the Geneva Conventions determine what an occupying army may and may not do. Under these rules, the IDF should be primarily concerned with the well being of the local population, i.e. the Palestinians. It should be none of the army's concern to create a radio station serving only and solely the interests of Israeli citizens who have chosen to settle in this Occupied Territory.

Also from the point of view of Israeli law the legal manoeuvres enacted in order to make possible the creation of a "regional radio" for the settlers raise serious constitutional issues, sufficient reason for them to be abolished.

The Second Broadcasting Authority is an Israeli statutory institute, legally empowered with issuing permits for regional radio stations within Israeli sovereign territory. It is under the authority of the Minister of Communications. In order to extend the power of the Second Authority and of the minister into an Occupied Territory which is not part of Israel, and enable the issuing of a permit for a settler radio station, an unprecedented military decree was issued under which it is the military commander who delegates power to the civilian minister.

This is in complete contradiction to the basic rules of democracy, where the civilian government draws its authority from the elected Knesset, and it is this government which delegates power to its subordinate military commanders. This novel legal situation, where the army is placed in the position of being the fount of authority and of delegating some of this authority to a civil minister, is a most dangerous and pernicious precedent, with implications far beyond the specific issue of the settler radio. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to abolish it forthwith and completely.

The Gush Shalom appeal specifically refers to the clause in the tender authorizing the operators of pirate radio stations to participate, provided they had ceased operation until the day when it was issued. This clause in effect rewards law-breakers, who get a big headstart compared with other contestants - having gained experience and technical ability through their illegal activity. Specifically, it is clear that "Arutz 7", the pirate station which distinguished itself by poisonous incitement against the late Prime Minster Rabin in the period immediately preceding his assassination, is the leading and most likely winner among contestants for operating the new "regional radio". Judging from past experience, if and when the government at last takes up its duty to dismantle the manifestly illegal "settlement outposts", there is a great likelihood that the "regional radio" will be used to mobilize the "Youth of the Hills" and other settler thugs to arrive at the spot and violently resist the dismantling.

A "regional radio station", of the settlers and by the settlers, would by definition be a political radio station which would support the settlement project, in all its broadcasts and in its very essence. Moreover, the definition "a regional radio station" is in itself misleading. A radio station covering the West Bank will inevitably cover Jerusalem and all communities around Jerusalem. A broadcast strong enough to reach such settlements as Elkana and Oranit on the western edge of the West Bank would also be audible throughout metropolitan Tel Aviv. And transmitters such as Arutz 7 frequently used as a pirate station could carry the broadcasts also to Haifa and Be’er Sheba. In short, the great majority of Israel’s population would be exposed to these broadcasts.

Like any other Israeli citizen, settlers have the right to express their views. But also the democratic expression of despicable views in favour of occupation and oppression must be carried out on a level playing field. This "regional radio" would create a manifest inequality in the balance of political and media forces among Israeli citizens. Only one political camp, the Extreme Right, would have a political and ideological radio station of its own, while other parts of the political spectrum will be denied that possibility. Basic equity requires that, should a permit for a radio station be granted to the settlers and their supporters, that a similar permit also be granted for a radio station of the opponents of the settlements, a station whose broadcasts would call for their dismantling and for the evacuation of all Occupied Territories. Also, a still third radio station should also be given a permit, to reflect the positions of the political centre which supports the dismantling of some settlements and the retention of others. If technical considerations make impossible the creation of so many political radio stations, then the settlers' extreme-right station should most definitely not be allowed to come into being.