Editor's Note: This is a special issue of Viewpoint. On January 9th,
the Israeli peace organization known as Gush Shalom held an important conference
of former Israeli military and intellectuals to discuss war crimes. This
was an amazing conference as the following will attest.
(a) Attack of Justice Minister Sheetrit on Gush Shalom war crimes forum
(b) Excerpts of the speeches by the panel members: Dr. Yigal Shohat / Dr. Eyal Gross / Brigadier-General (Res.) Dov Tamari / Prof. Adi Ophir / Moderator Haim Hanegbi/ Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi / Former Minister Shulamit Aloni.
(c) Supreme Court: Gush Shalom should get air time for views on war crimes
(a) This morning Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, had the doubtful honor of being chosen as the target of a verbal broadside by Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit. The minister was apparently ired by the Jan.9 forum discussion on war crimes held under Gush Shalom auspices at the Tzavta Hall in Tel-Aviv, and particularly at the suggestion made by several speakers that peace-seeking Israeli groups start preparing war crime dossiers against military officers known to have ordered or carried out specific violations of international law (which are, in most cases, violations of Israeli law as well). The reaction of the minister charged with law enforcement: "A very dangerous and pernicious idea, when the country is in such a difficult situation. If anybody should be prosecuted, it is these lunatic left-wing subversives, not the officers of our defence forces." Was this just a bit of demagogic bombast by a mediocre right-wing politician, or a serious threat by the man in ultimate charge of Israel's public prosecution?
The radio broadcast included not only the minister's remarks, but also some extracts from the speeches themselves, thus bringing them to a much wider audience than had been present at the Tzavta Hall itself. Later on the day, Ha'aretz column- ist Gideon Levy also referred to the Tzavta war crimes discussion in a TV interview.
(b) The Wednesday meeting was unique in bringing together a spectrum of Israeli public figures, saying things which hadn't been hitherto spoken so explicitly. Following are some high- lights. (The full transcript, in Hebrew and English, should be available on the Gush Shalom website within the next couple of days.)
Dr. Yigal Shohat, former combat pilot and Air Force Colonel turned surgeon red a very personal and very thoughtful 'document humaine' with as the most sharp conclusion:
"I think F-16 pilots should refuse to bomb Palestinian cities. When they get such an order they should imagine the city where they live being bombed, and how they would react to the destruction in its streets. You can't call the killing of civilians during the bombing of a thickly populated urban area 'collateral damage'. When you bomb a city, civilians are going to get hurt, you know it, and that makes it a war crime. (...) I regret that I did not reach this political and moral maturity while still being on active service."
Dr. Eyal Gross, Law Faculty of Tel-Aviv University, referring to the controversial Belgian law suit against Ariel Sharon:
"It is not so well-known that one of the main precedents cited in Belgium for claiming universal jurisdiction is the Eichmann Trial. (...). Our Supreme Court clearly asserted that its right to try Eichmann did not derive solely from the fact that Eichmann's victims were Jews and Israel is a Jewish state, but that any state has the right and the duty to punish crimes against humanity. (...) I am not, of course, equating Sharon with Eichmann - merely remarking that the state of Israel created an important precedent of universal jurisdiction for offences against international law (...). The prosecution against Sharon is problematic because of his being an acting head of government. The attempt to prosecute Karmi Gilon in Denmark for his involvement in torture failed because of his diplomatic immunity. It would be interesting to see what happens if a European country started proceedings against a former head of the Israeli security Services who at present enjoys no kind of immunity."
Dov Tamari (former Brigadier-General, presently social science researcher):
"The old wars, to which the world was used in the 19th and earlier 20th century, were wars pitting an army against an army. The two sides were both a state with an army; in some wars the two armies were of very unequal size and strength, but still the basic assumptions under which they operated were the same. The other kind of war, war between a state and a non-state entity was marginalized and not properly analysed. It did not fit the idealized criteria of Clausewitz. And even though nowadays the majority of wars worldwide are of this second kind, the standard concepts of war are still of the older type, you look for a state with an army and if you don't find it you lump anything else under the simple-minded label of 'terrorism'. (...) In 1982, I was told to study the refugee camps in Lebanon, which the IDF just occupied, and devise ways of "dismantling the terrorist infrastructure". I found that the "terrorist infrastructure" was very elusive, sometimes it was in the schools, sometimes in charitable associations and religious institutions. It was, in fact, composed of people. To 'dismantle' it you have to start killing people en masse, and if you don't want to do that you should just give up the idea."
Prof. Adi Ophir (Tel-Aviv University Dept. of Philosophy):
"The army in the Occupied Territories is involved in war crimes - on that we are all agreed, I think. The problem is to find tribunals where those responsible can be tried. They can be existing international tribunals or ones which will be set up in the future. They can also be simulated tribunals which will be set up here in Israel, which will at least give a verdict for public opinion. Whatever kind of tribunal we are thinking about, NGO's should already start compiling dossiers on anyone who can be identified, with a name and address, and given responsibility for a particular act. Why not build a dossier for [Defence Minister and Labor Party Leader] Ben Eliezer? We know many things he is responsible for. And then on down all along the ranks, generals, regimental commanders, battalion commanders, and down to the corporals at the check- points. Anybody who could be identified. Even before it comes to any tribunal, the fact that such dossiers are being compiled will already have an effect. Officers with something to hide will start hesitating before they go abroad, will ask legal advise about the laws and the courts of the country they want to visit, will become apprehensive.(...)
Haim Hanegbi (journalist, moderator of the panel):
"Before passing on to the next speaker, I would like to read a short document about a war crime. It is the operational order given by an Israeli military commander in October 1953, and which only became known to the general public through publication in Ha'aretz more than forty years later, in 1994. The order stated: 'Objective: attacking the village of Kibiya, occupy- ing it, and causing maximal damage in lives and property. Signed: Major Ariel Sharon, Commander, Special Forces Unit 101'."
Michael Tarazi (Legal Adviser, PLO Negotiations Department, Ramallah):
"At a quite early part of the negotiations with Israel we asked our interlocutors if the negotiations were to be held in the framework of International Law, or on the basis of a relationship of forces on the ground. At first the Israelis ignored this query, then when we pressed for an answer, the answer was: 'We will comply with the Geneva Convention only if and to the extent that we are forced to'. It was no surprise that such is the Israeli policy, but still we were shocked at this brutal frankness. (...) Strict application of International Law would vastly improve the situation of the Palestinian population. But who is to enforce it? The UN adopted hundreds of resolutions, thousands. To what effect? We appeal to the countries signatory to the Geneva Convention. They pat us on the head and do nothing concrete to enforce the convention they signed. We are asked to take care of the enforcement ourselves. That is like ask- ing a rape victim to herself take care of enforcing the law on the rapist. If she had such power, would she be raped in the first place?(...)
Shulamit Aloni (Former Meretz Leader and Minister of Education):
"I am not so optimistic about getting international war crime tribunals to take up cases of Israelis who deserve to be tried by them, because of the very sophisticated emotional blackmail which is used by the government, the manipulation of the deep guilt feelings in the Western, Christian world, the branding of any criticism of the occupation as 'antisemitism'. What was Sharon's reaction when the suit was started against him in Belgium? "This is not just an attack on me. It is an attack on Israel, on the Jewish People, on all the generations of the Jewish People". So, he, Sharon, is Israel. He is the Jewish People. He is all the generations of the Jewish People. He is sacrosanct. And if the Belgian court goes ahead with the proceedings against him, that is proof that the Belgians are antisemites! We have to tell the Europeans, the whole world, that opposing the occupation is not antisemitism. It is not antisemitism to cry out against the demolition of houses and the destruction of fields and orchards and the tight closures and sieges which make every Palestinian village and town into a prison camp. We have to call a spade a spade. We have to say out loud that our government is committing war crimes, to say it clearly and explicitly and repeat it again and again. And, yes, the time has come to start compiling dossiers on the war criminals!"
(c) On Jan. 9 - a few hours before the forum debate - the Supreme Court in Jerusalem heard the appeal of Gush Shalom against the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. The IBA didn't allow GS to place ads on Israeli radio containing a warning to soldiers about which are the illegal acts which they should disobey in order to remain within the boundaries of inter- national law - among them shooting unarmed civilians and destruction of homes, which are both on the international black list.
The IBA claimed that the ads constituted political propaganda which it is forbidden to broadcast by its bylaws. Gush Shalom's lawyer Eran Lev argued that informing soldiers and civilians in general of the prevailing situation of international law is an important public service and by no means propaganda. The state answered that such issues belong in the normal radio programs, rather than in paid ads. The court thereupon gave the parties a week to "get together and find a way for Gush Shalom to ventilate its views on the air waves."
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