[OPE-L] The wall, the law and the sub-sub-contracting business... a few musings

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Jun 21 2007 - 19:23:12 EDT

The Dutch government thinks it is "undesirable" that the Dutch mobile
crane-renting company Riwal (www.riwal.nl) continues to participate in
building the Israeli wall along the Western shores of the Jordan river.

Human rights organisation B'Tselem http://www.btselem.org/English/  says
that Riwal still does so, however. Riwal is now reported to rent four mobile
cranes to Israeli companies.

Last year, Riwal requested of the renting Israeli companies that they would
not use the cranes "for building the wall on Palestinian territory". The
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that it trusts that Riwal will
insist that the request is indeed honored. The Israeli subsidiary of Riwal,
which is owned by the Dutch company Lima Holding at Spijkenisse, already
received a request last year not to participate in the project. "To my
knowledge that request is still current", a representative of Riwal said. A
Dutch legal prohibition against participating in the construction work is
not possible, according to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Riwal was in the news last July, because it evidently did participate in
building the nearly ten metre-high barrier, of which a large part is on
Palestinian territory. But the International Court of Justice in the Hague
had ruled in 2004 that the wall itself is illegal. The verdict stated "All
States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation
resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or
assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all
States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of
Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the
obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international
law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian laws
embodied in that Convention."

The law is an ass, or another brick in the wall? According to Marxist China
Mieville, "The chaotic and bloody world around us is the rule of law"
(Between Equal Rights, p. 319). That's not a viable view in my opinion. The
law as I see it simply cannot function in a "chaotic and bloody world". But
what is true is, that by sub-contracting, sub-sub contracting and
sub-sub-sub contracting, one can almost always find one's way around what
the law requires, with a string of different contracts, negotiations and
agreements linking different operators from here to Jerusalem.

In which case, the law is at best only a moral principle which cannot be
enforced, or at worst, an apologetic justification for de facto lawlessness.
Of course, we do not see many politicians rationally defending moral
principles, because then they'd have to live by them. Rather, they talk
about the law, and about being fair or equitable, and the law has so many
qualifications and conditionals, that you can almost always let yourself off
the hook, or at least explain you are "not being unfair".

Israeli Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu has just taken the
"outsourcing" (sub-contracting) idea a step further. On  Thursday he called
for the deployment of Jordanian troops in the West Bank "in order to help
impose order" http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/873739.html. The whole
problem seems to be: how do you get appropriate "stakeholders" to do a job
for you, if you're too discredited to do it yourself?

With a bit of sub-contracting, you might be able to do a deal. The deal
might be opposite to what the law really requires, but it is legal insofar
as the responsibilities are shifted somewhere else. If bad stuff happens,
you can always say, that it was outside the intention of your own contract,
and that you're not responsible for the contracts which your contracting
partner makes with somebody else, and what that somebody else does, in terms
of his own contract with yet other contractors.

With all this going on, there's obviously a booming business for lawyers to
stretch the meaning of the law ever further and wider. But in the process,
who is really responsible for what can get lost - the law effectively
inverts itself, by specifying only what you cannot take responsibility for,
and do not have to take responsibility for ("no claim" statements). In which
case, Mieville might well be correct... in the sense that "between equal
rights, force decides" as Marx put it (Cap. 1, ch. 10 I think).

The foundation of human morality - a co-operation survival rule, really - is
the positive reciprocal principle "do unto others as you yourself would have
them do unto you", but this can also be stated negatively, "don't do unto
others what you yourself don't want them to do to you". Which obliges far
less. Point is, that it leaves a grey area - after all, doing nothing wrong,
may not be doing what is just, good or right -and that grey area can grow
larger and larger, to the point where nobody understands the nuances

Enfin, with out-sourcing and sub-contracting, you can "do unto others" as
you please, precisely because it's not you, that's doing anything. If good
stuff happens, you can take the credit, pointing to the original contract
you made. If bad things happen, well, it was just "somebody else" who did


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