Ehud Yatom arrived at the High Court of Justice yesterday due to an attack of a rare disease: Rehabilititis. This disease is not life-threatening; it merely attacks the foreheads of its victims - all veteran security officials - by refurbishing the marks of Cain that had been fading away.
The process is well-known. A security official is denied promotion because of a criminal proceeding. He complains that his good intentions have been transmuted by slander into evil deeds and vows to restore his lost status - thereby damaging his own interests by embarking on a path that reminds everyone of the sin he once committed.
Persistence is a praiseworthy quality in battle, but borders on stupidity when it turns into stubbornness in a personal context. Nobody was persecuting Yatom. He was living well off his pension as a retired Shin Bet security service department head - a pension higher than the salaries of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Israelis - and upon retiring, he had become Hadera's city manager.
The public's attitude toward him was not affected by his employment situation. There were those who saw him as an evildoer, a slayer of bound captives - partly because instead of keeping quiet, he gave an interview containing statements that both the public and the High Court interpreted as a confession - and there were also those who saw him as a hero who fought terror and then became a victim of the politicians and the judges.
But Yatom did not want civilian obscurity. He embarked on a campaign to rehabilitate his reputation as a security officer. He tried to become the head of the Knesset guard, whose rank is equivalent to that of a major general in the police or Israel Defense Forces or of a department head in the Shin Bet. When he was turned down, he did not give up; he is not the type of person to let the affair in which he was embroiled disappear into the recesses of the public's memory. Instead, when he was offered the job of heading the government's Anti-Terror Council, he leapt at the chance.
In so doing, he also entangled himself in an internal contradiction. He claimed that Yosef Harish, the attorney general appointed by the government in 1986 to arrange pardons for him and his fellow Shin Bet officers, had promised him that his career would not suffer. But at the same time, he argued that the Anti-Terror Council is not really that important: It only advises, it doesn't have any real authority.
Moreover, he managed to drag Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein with him into the ranks of the losers: The High Court could not understand why Rubinstein had nixed Yatom as head of the Knesset guard but approved him for the Anti-Terror Council.
Yatom's commander in the Bus 300 affair, Shin Bet head Avraham Shalom, was a little smarter: Two years ago, he returned to the security services through the back door, via a part-time job as then prime minister Ehud Barak's adviser on the question of how to divide responsibility for guarding Israeli government offices overseas. Shalom effaced himself, and thereby avoided yet another humiliating rejection.
Yesterday, Yatom joined a long line of other ex-security officers who have undergone similar experiences. One of the most prominent was another Shin Bet man, Yatom's partner in deceiving a state commission of inquiry, Yossi Ginossar. In 1993, dissatisfied with his role as chairman of the board of the Amidar public housing company, Ginossar decided that he wanted to become director-general of the Housing Ministry. But in this case as well, the High Court overturned the appointment. Both men simply wanted to go a rank too far.
It is also no accident that those who have tried to help the former Shin Bet men in their quest for rehabilitation - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Yatom's case; then housing minister (and current Defense Minister) Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in Ginossar's case - are themselves former senior defense officers. When it comes to the treatment of captives, their norms are closer to those of Yatom than to those of the justices.
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