Taxi driver who was kidnapped by soldiers
Photo: Samih Shahin
IDF courts justify moral decay
Military courts must be reminded that their job is not to preserve army’s good name

Six soldiers decided to act like the commando units on TV and in the news and went out on a daring “raid” in the enemy’s rear. Now they are suspected of kidnapping, shooting an innocent man and committing other various military and civilian offenses.Their case is now in the hands of a military court.


Anyone with some knowledge of the reality in the West Bank knows that the acts attributed to the soldiers are nothing new. Abusive behavior toward bystanders and uncalled for shooting incidents – as the soldiers’ testimonies indicate – are commonplace in the area.


The uniqueness of this affair lies not only in the speed and resolve in which it is being handled so far, but also perhaps in the new, vibrant and purging spirit that is coming from the office of the new Central Command chief, Major General Gadi Shamni.


However, this affair also sheds light on another issue, just as dramatic and just as concerning: The military judicial system.


'Nothing out of the ordinary'

The part these systems (and legislators in general) have played in the upkeep of the occupation enterprise still awaits an examination by a historian, but it is clear that military judicial systems spawned by democracy that suddenly find themselves providing a legal and judicial basis for military tyranny that rules over millions of citizens are a certain recipe for moral corruption and loss of way.


The fingerprints of this situation are all over this current affair as well: The military court has already made two strange decisions; one was to order the immediate release (in the midst of the investigation) of four of the six soldiers under the claim that “they were only following orders”, while the second was the issuing of a gag order on the identity of the suspects who remained in custody and the announcement that the remaining court sessions in the case will be held behind closed doors.


There seems to be no need to explain why the reason given for the release of the four soldiers evokes a deep feeling of uneasiness. The soldiers, according to their admission, received an “order” to arbitrarily pull over a taxicab, tie up the driver, who wronged no one, throw him in the backseat, take off with his car as if it was their own and embark on an adventurous patrol.


The judges contend that there was nothing out of the ordinary about these “orders” that should have raised a red flag in the soldiers’ minds. Have these norms been internalized to the point where even court judges believe that “subordination” refers to such bizarre orders as those mentioned in the affair?


No less problematic is the gag order and the holding of court hearings behind closed doors. There needs to be a very good reason for such a blatant obstruction of the public trial principle, but the court did not provide even one such reason for its decisions.


Chilling and ominous reflection

The gag order was not explained, and the reason to conduct the hearings behind closed doors was explained by the need to “prevent the obstruction of the ongoing investigation” – a somewhat hollow explanation in light of the fact that four of the soldiers who took part in the act have already been released.


The publicity principle, we must remember, is not some whim aimed at serving the ratings-driven journalist needs; rather, it is essential to maintaining the sincerity of the judicial process and limiting the system’s ability to act in a biased manner. This is why trials conducted in the dark and nameless detainees have become the trademarks of tyrannical, decaying systems or those with dual loyalties.


Unfortunately, the military courts’ fingers are a bit too light on the trigger when it comes to issuing gag orders and publication restraints.


Here are a few examples: In the second Tze’elim affair – there are still those who claim the investigation that was conducted behind closed doors helped conceal the commanders’ responsibility; the puzzling exoneration of Major R, who was tried for “confirming the kill”, or administering a coup de grâce on a 13-year-old Palestinian girl in Rafah in October 2004; the rape of a minor at an Air Force base in the south; the Air Force “gambling ring” affair; the case involving a senior Air Force officer who was caught purchasing cocaine. This is just a partial list of affairs that were “protected” by the military courts.


The time has come for someone to remind the military courts of their obligations; remind them that it is not their job to preserve the army’s good name by concealing its shortcomings, which are exposed from time to time; make it clear to them that suspected soldiers should be treated no differently than civilian suspects, and there is no reason in the world to grant them supposed privileges that civil courts would never even consider giving.


Ironically, the courts’ attempt to protect the identity of a few soldiers exposed revealed the identity of the entire garrison, because the anonymous soldiers’ testimonies paint a horrible picture that evokes great dismay – a picture revealing an atmosphere of reckless and routine violence (“We took a private car…We were supposed to shoot the people who were throwing stones along the road…”) of moral and emotional indifference (“The activity does not allow us to be humane…We handcuff a seven-year-old child, prevent injured people from passing through checkpoints”) and other descriptions and phrases that make the blood boil.


If the soldiers’ behind the aforementioned quotes would have been revealed, their behavior could have been deemed atypical, but without names – their behavior is considered commonplace.


They have become a vital, chilling and ominous reflection of the level of moral turpitude the boys tasked with preserving the occupation have sunken to.


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