Thursday, April 2, 2009

Opinion: Disposable Justice - Gideon Levy

Haaretz, April 2, 2009 - Anyone who cares about the rule of law and Israel's moral image, and is worried that its soldiers may have carried out war crimes in the Gaza Strip, can now sigh with relief. The military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, ordered that the investigation into soldiers' testimonies on their experiences in Operation Cast Lead be closed. A flash operation of instant justice buried a story that had rocked worlds. There are judges in Jerusalem, and a military advocate general in Tel Aviv. All he needed was a day or two - no Palestinian testimonies were deemed necessary. There was no real investigation whatsoever - the case was instantly disposed of.

Mendelblit's effective and scandalously quick conduct proved beyond doubt what everyone already knew: His office is a propaganda machine, part of the Israel Defense Forces' information activities. It has the same relation to justice as military marches do to music, to borrow a phrase from French statesman Georges Clemenceau.

It is inconceivable that the IDF would investigate itself. It doesn't have the slightest intention to do so....

Gideon Levy is a columnist for Haaretz daily newspaper in Israel.

See also: IDF: Case Closed on Gaza Testimonies - Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2009, and

Haaretz Editorial, Repression Campaign:
....The defense establishment was quick to rejoice at the closure of the case and the conclusion that [IDF] soldiers had told tall tales or embellished unfounded rumors that they had heard elsewhere. The defense minister and the chief of staff repeated the cliched statement that the IDF is "the most moral army in the world."

It is difficult to accept this. If the ranks of the combat units are filled with liars and exaggerators, then the IDF has a serious discipline, if not moral, problem.

One cannot shake the impression that the swift probe and its findings are part and parcel of the IDF's and Israeli society's campaign of psychological repression. This repression is palpable in the wholesale rationalizations made in explaining away the harm to Palestinian civilians and their property as an unassailable, operational necessity in the fight against terrorism; in ignoring the grave accounts from Palestinians in Gaza, which were revealed by Amira Hass in Haaretz and presented by foreign journalists and human rights organizations, all of which is viewed as the product of hostile propaganda; and in the tendency to automatically deny every claim of illegal behavior by the IDF and its troops.

If the IDF aspires to be the most moral army in the world, it must "look the truth in the eye," in the words of Ehud Barak's election campaign, and genuinely and courageously probe the reasons for the killing of many "noncombatants" during the fighting in Gaza. It ought to punish those who deviated from their superior's commands and it must define rules of engagement that, above all, will ensure the protection of innocent individuals and their property.

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