naveh - Dan Keinan - November 29 2010
Yair Naveh. Photo by Dan Keinan
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The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a petition to block Major General (res.) Yair Naveh from assuming position as Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff.

Naveh was to assume his role as deputy chief to designate chief of staff Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant this month. However, after Galant was disqualified for allegedly seizing public land near his home in Moshav Amikam, speculation arose that Naveh would become the next chief.

Supreme Court justices Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran rejected the petition that was commissioned by the organizations Yesh Gvul, Gush Shalom and other left-wing groups.

The petitioners opposed the appointment of Naveh pending investigation over the major general's conduct in three separate cases of military assassinations during his term as GOC Central Command. The groups claim that Naveh operated against a High Court ruling in the matter.

When delivering their verdict, the judges said they were aware that rejecting the petition would lead to the appointment of Naveh in Galant's stead.

"We see no reason to distinguish between the standard needed to serve as deputy chief of staff and the standard needed to fill the position of chief of staff," the judges wrote. "Furthermore, in light of recent events, the authorities that be must formulate concrete rules and guidelines going forward in this matter."

Judge Jubran openly criticized Naveh for his comments about the High Court ruling, in which when asked about the High Court guidelines vis-à-vis questionable assassinations under his jurisdiction, Naveh said: "Leave me alone and don't bother me with High Court guidelines."

"It is upsetting that that a person who held a high ranking public service position in the not so distant past allows himself to express sentiments that allude to a disregard for both the legal system as well as the rule of law."

"His statement is problematic not only because it could lead to disregard of court judgments, but also because this could diminish the public's faith in civil servants, the law and the rule of law which is the obligation of every single citizen to uphold," he said. "This is particularly true for a man who is to assume a public service position and is meant to operate based on court mandated decisions."

"The way in which the statements were said conveys a negative and reprehensible message to the entire public regarding the army's obligation to uphold court ruling and a sets a particularly bad example for members of the IDF," said Judge Arbel. "Israeli society is largely made of young people who look up to their commanders.

They learn not only the art of fighting but also morality and ethical conduct. Even if Naveh is given the benefit of the doubt, these words should not have been said.

The petitioners based their case on evidence that when serving as GOC Central Command, Naveh violated a court ruling on the Israel Defense Forces' assassination policy, as well as Israeli and international law, in an incident first revealed by Haaretz two years ago. They wrote that Naveh's slated appointment is immoral, inappropriate and must be canceled.

Among the petitioners are former minister Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avnery and the Yesh Gvul and Gush Shalom movements. The petition was submitted by attorneys Omer Shatz and Yiftah Cohen.

The petition is based on the findings of an investigation by Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, which found that Naveh and other IDF senior officers allegedly authorized the assassination of wanted Palestinians who could be arrested, while taking into account the likelihood of death or injury to innocent bystanders. This would contradict a verdict rendered by the High Court in 2006 - which set forth guidelines concerning the activities security forces should conduct in such situations - as well as international and Israeli criminal law.

The petitioners argued that Naveh never refuted the claims against him. They say the Haaretz report suggests that top officers in the IDF, led by him, violated the court's instructions and thus committed gravest criminal offenses. They conclude the appointment cannot be allowed to go forward when the suspicions against Naveh were never properly investigated at all - most certainly not via a process independent of the military.

Despite these claims, the Supreme Court adopted the ruling of former Attorney General Menny Mazuz who upon investigating the matter concluded that there was very little basis to the petitioners' argument in all three assassination cases. Furthermore, the justices deemed that in light of both the former Attorney General's position as well as that of the Military Advocate General a criminal investigation is not warranted and the petition does not hold water.

Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office announced the postponement of the meeting meant to take place Thursday to determine the appointment of Naveh. Less than 24 hours before the scheduled meeting, the Prime Minister's Office realized that all ministers had to receive notification of the decision 48 hours in advance. Therefore, the voting was postponed to Sunday to avoid any legal complications or invalidation of Naveh's expected appointment.