Friday, February 6, 2009

Israel Makes Its Own "Laws of War"

A look at the code itself and the philosopher who drafted it
for the IDF

Haaretz, February 6, 2009 - When senior Israel Defense Forces officers are asked about the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, they almost all give the same answer: The use of massive force was designed to protect the lives of the soldiers, and when faced with a choice between protecting the lives of Israeli soldiers and those of enemy civilians under whose protection the Hamas terrorists are operating, the soldiers take precedence.

The IDF's response to criticism does not sound improvised or argumentative. The army entered Gaza with the capacity to gauge with relatively high certainty the impact of fighting against terror in such a densely populated area. And it operated there not only with the backing of the legal opinion of the office of the Military Advocate General, but also on the basis of ethical theory, developed several years ago, that justifies its actions.

Prof. Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University, an Israel Prize laureate in philosophy, is the philosopher who told the IDF that it was possible. In a recent interview with Haaretz Kasher said the army operated in accordance with a code of conduct developed about five years ago. "The norms followed by the commanders in Gaza were generally appropriate," Kasher said. In Kasher's opinion there is no justification for endangering the lives of soldiers to avoid the killing of civilians who live in the vicinity of terrorists....

Kasher's argument is that in an area such as the Gaza Strip in which the IDF does not have effective control the overriding principle guiding the commanders is achieving their military objectives. Next in priority is protecting soldiers' lives, followed by avoiding injury to enemy civilians. In areas where Israel does have effective control, such as East Jerusalem, there is no justification for targeted killings in which civilians are also hit because Israel has the option of using routine policing procedures, such as arrests, that do not endanger innocent people.

Prof. Kasher has strong, long-standing ties with the army. He drafted the IDF ethical code of conduct in the mid-1990's. In 2003 he and Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin, now the head of Military Intelligence, published an article entitled "The Ethical Fight Against Terror." It justified the targeted assassination of terrorists, even at the price of hitting nearby Palestinian civilians. Subsequently Kasher, Yadlin, and a team that included IDF legal experts wrote a more comprehensive document on military ethics in fighting terror. Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, who was the IDF Chief of Staff at the time, did not make the document binding but Kasher says the ideas in the document were adopted in principle by Ya'alon and his successors. Kasher has presented them to IDF and Shin Bet security service personnel dozens of times.

"The article was translated into English and published in a military ethics journal and is still being debated around the world," Kasher said. "The feedback is generally positive, although the message is difficult to digest. In the end, everyone acknowledges that they conduct themselves this way. There is no army in the world that will endanger its soldiers in order to avoid hitting the neighbors of an enemy or terrorist....

No comments: