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Richard Goldstone Photo: AFP
Richard Goldstone Photo: AFP
 
Operation Cast Lead Photo: Reuters
Operation Cast Lead Photo: Reuters
 
 

A license to kill

Op-ed: Concept of innocent civilians largely wiped from Israel’s public consciousness, conscience

Susie Becher
Published: 04.18.11, 00:01 / Israel Opinion

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the Netanyahu government’s rejoicing over Judge Goldstone’s Washington Post op-ed and its demands that the report be repealed are unfounded.

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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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