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A license to kill
By Susie Becher
Ynet / Israel Opinion
18 Apr 2011

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4058068,00.html

One does not need to read the rebuttal by the three judges who served on the
Goldstone panel to understand that that the Netanyahu government’s rejoicing
over Judge Goldstone’s Washington Post op-ed and its demands that the report be
repealed are unfounded.

Judge Goldstone did not issue a retraction, nor did he recommend Israel for a
Good Conduct Medal. While he did say his report would have looked different had
he known then what he knows now, nothing in the article suggests that the baby
should be thrown out with the bathwater.

What Goldstone does say is that although there is evidence of cases where
Israeli soldiers opened fire on civilians, these incidents were apparently the
acts of individuals and not the execution of a policy adopted by the upper
echelons.

I believe Judge Goldstone today just as I did at the time the report was issued.
I don’t think the decision-makers in Jerusalem or army headquarters have crossed
that line where they would order the troops to deliberately hunt and gun down
innocent civilians... yet.

However, the fact that more than half of the approximately 1,400 Palestinians
killed during Operation Cast Lead did not take part in the hostilities, and that
almost half of the dead non-combatants were minors, shows that there was wanton
disregard for human life, and the documentation of even isolated incidents where
IDF soldiers shot first and never asked questions constitutes a serious
indictment of “the most moral army in the world.”

It was during the Second Lebanon War that former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz
coined the shameful term “the uninvolved,” asserting that there is no
presumption of innocence when it comes to Palestinian civilians of any age.
Years later, this phrase has been ensconced in the lexicon of the Israeli
government, military and mainstream media, effectively wiping the concept of
innocent civilians from the public consciousness and conscience.

This is the atmosphere in which the IDF operates, an atmosphere that constitutes
a license to kill.

Security trumps law
Everyone remembers that journalist Anat Kam leaked classified military
documents, but few recall that the documents reportedly exposed illegal targeted
killings of Palestinian militants. This same selective process can be witnessed
among those who feel vindicated by Goldstone’s ruminations, focusing solely on
his reconsideration of the evidence of war crimes and ignoring the many damning
findings by which he stands.

More worrisome is the fact that even fewer believe that the acts Kam disclosed
are a greater concern than the leaks themselves. In the minds of the Israeli
public, threats to security – real or imagined – trump legal considerations
every time.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the military advocate general is going
to close the investigation into the killing of Palestinians carrying white flags
who were ordered out of the house in which they had taken shelter in the al-
Zaytoun neighborhood during the Gaza war. Among those killed in the incident
were several members of the Hajji family, including a three-year-old, another of
the so-called “uninvolved.”

According to the reports, the investigation is going to be closed because no
evidence was found that the soldiers acted against orders. Surely there is no
need to elaborate on the associations generated by the “only following orders”
defense.

True, Goldstone did say that Israel comes out favorably when compared with the
actions of Hamas, which deliberately targeted civilian populations and failed to
comply with the demand that it investigate the mission’s findings regarding
serious war crimes on the part of the Palestinians, but the actions of Hamas are
not the standard by which Israel should be measuring its moral conduct.

A fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is currently bringing calm to the
south, but there can be no doubt that its days are numbered. With no hope of a
political solution in sight, the rocket fire will eventually resume and Cast
Lead II will not be far behind. The lesson that there is no military solution to
this conflict remains unlearned, and it will be left to the next UN fact-finding
mission to determine the extent to which the death and destruction was
“intentional” – as if there is any absolution to be found when children die
because of circumstances rather than policy.

Susie Becher is a member of the Meretz National Executive

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