Not just a security thing
Defense Minister Amir Peretz informed senior people at his ministry Monday afternoon that in the wake of the strong criticism by the High Court of Justice of the route of the fence near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Tzofin, he has decided to check with the fence planners whether they are not taking the name of security in vain. At almost the same time the State Prosecutor's Office submitted to the High Court of Justice an updated response to a petition against Peretz on taking advantage of the court's sensitivity to the security of Israeli citizens. The document was aimed at convincing the High Court to reject the petition by the local councils of Suwara Shaqiya and Abu Dis and seven of their residents who claim that the fence planners are doing harm to Palestinians without any security need.
The petitioners' lawyer, Shlomo Lecker, who yesterday read the report in Haaretz about the defense minister's decision, says that if Peretz wants to spare himself embarrassment, he should have a look at the map of the fence route at the southern margins of Ma'aleh Adumim. He will find that the Prosecutors' Office is arguing in his name that "the planning of the security fence along this route concurs with the general purpose of the security fence, i.e. providing protection against infiltration of terrorists into the state of Israel and the defense of all the inhabitants who live in its territory." It is also argued that the fence route has been planned for the protection of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, of the city of Ma'aleh Adumim, of the Meshor Adumim Industrial Zone area, of the settlement of Kedar and of the approach roads to those locales.
If Peretz requests the transcript of the previous High Court deliberation, he will discover that the man responsible for the planning of the fence, Colonel (res.) Danny Tirza, aide to the defense minister, told the court that distancing the fence southward was not intended at all for purposes of the security of the millions of inhabitants of Israel who live within the Green Line, the hundreds of thousands who live in Jerusalem or even the tens of thousands of inhabitants of Ma'aleh Adumim, which is in the territories.
Tirza stated twice that the route was intended solely to ensure the safety of the few dozen families that live in the Jewish settlement of Kedar, which belongs to the Etzion Bloc regional council. Tirza confirmed that the more modest route, which experts on behalf of the Council for Peace and Security presented at the deliberations, answers to the security needs of Ma'aleh Adumim, never mind Jerusalem and the other parts of Israel.
If Peretz does not act quickly, before the ink dries on the sharp High Court of Justice ruling against the previous defense minister, Shaul Mofaz (now minister of transportation), the new defense minister is liable to get a reprimand of his own.
At the first meeting of the ministerial committee for implementing Talia Sasson's report on the outposts, the committee chair, Justice Minister Haim Ramon, asked the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements to present examples to prove their claim that most of the outposts were established with the knowledge of ministers. The settlers will not have to go far. The example is right there in front of their very eyes: Not only did Ramon know, he also contributed indirectly quite a bit of public money to some of the illegal outposts that adorn the Sasson report.
When he was serving as interior minister (from the fall of 2000 to the winter of 2001), Ramon's ministry approved the transfer of millions of shekels to settlements in the territories, including to establish the outposts that he wants to dismantle today. The signature of the official in charge of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank at the Interior Ministry is blazoned on every budget item, and it is he who is in charge of the regional councils that have forwarded generous funding for the illegal construction. During that period, the head of the committee for planning and construction, which is responsible for issuing permits and for the observance of the law in this important area throughout the West Bank, was also subordinate to the interior minister.
Dror Halevy, an entrepreneur who has built hundreds of apartments in the Modi'in area, slightly east of the seam line and one of the founders of the movement for the separation fence, succeeded in getting his hands on the budget books of the Mate Binyamin regional council for 2000 ("Barak paid for the withdrawal, but paid for construction," Haaretz, September 21, 2004). Between the section on "combining educational institutions" and the section on "payments to settlement committees," he discovered the word "hills." The council head, Pinhas Wallerstein, has confirmed that this is the code for "outposts." In the year 2000 under this code a million shekels were expended for guarding, water supply, generator repairs and renovation of mobile homes, and another NIS 400,000 for maintaining an emergency generator at educational institutions. All this was at a time when the government of Ehud Barak was supposed to be freezing construction in the territories.
Ramon has rolled the responsibility to the doorstep of the Interior Ministry official in charge of the Jewish settlements, who turned a blind eye and even lent a hand to the establishment of illegal sites. Ramon said he had pangs of conscience about abandoning Jews, and children among them, to their fate, and he indeed approved budgets for "essential needs."
Almost the same words were used by then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz (before he went over to Kadima) to excuse his ministry's generous help to the outposts. Incidentally, in July 2000, at the very same time Barak was talking at Camp David about a withdrawal from extensive parts of the Binyamin area, Ramon's ministry approved NIS 1.6 million for a "The Nation is With Binyamin" campaign to attract new residents to the area, inter alia, to the illegal outposts.
When Ophir Pines-Paz (now minister of culture, science and sport) was serving as interior minister in Ariel Sharon's last government, he appointed accountants to the regional councils in the territories, in an effort to stop the flow of government funds to the outposts. He fears that the heads of the Yesha Council will not relinquish the pleasure of using Ramon's story as an example of the backing they received from the government and that this will cause embarrassment and even real damage to the process of evacuating the outposts.
Two corpses a night
Captain T. was the commander of an armed high-speed reconnaissance boat. His naval commanders expected him to have a brilliant military career. But soon after Operation Defensive Shield, T. handed back his equipment and went to India. He came home for a visit, and his mother turned to the Breaking the Silence organization to have an activist talk to him. His story, from the spring of 2002, can explain what can happen to a Palestinian family that goes out for a breath of fresh air on the Gaza shore. His words are quoted with necessary cuts and editing:
"After Defensive Shield two boats went down to the area of Sudaniya in the northern Gaza Strip. We had with us representatives of the navy, of the air force, of helicopter units, and of various participating combat units, as well as people from units on the shore, intelligence, etc. One of the senior officers told us that the Israel Defense Forces was acting in very extensively and said that he wanted 'two dead every night'; 'I want at least two "terrorists" every night,' he said, from the beach front. The feeling was of a revenge mission. We waited, two boats, at a distance of about 2,000 meters from the shore.
"We spotted a patrol on the shore going to the beach outside our target area, on the beach itself. About three to four people sat there at the beach and lit a fire, and we noted some action between the (patrol) group and the fire. We had no other identification of these people, no idea who they were, whether they were armed or not.
"When Naval Task Force 13 signaled that they saw weapons at the site, all of us (on the boat) felt very excited. Night after night boats returned from nightly duty without firing a single shot, and now we had such an opportunity. Our feeling was imbued by the aura of 'Defensive Shield,' the (suicide) attacks preceding it and the tension. No wonder I wanted to shoot. I said 'legitimate target' and had the concurrence of all other ranks up to the one giving the order. And we started firing. We continued shooting, aiming at hitting as many as possible, even those carrying the wounded. The problematic issue was that we didn't really know who was sitting around the fire. It could have been the kid brother of someone there, it could have been ...we don't know. This happened every night.
"Another incident occurred in the southern area of Khan Yunis. Ten people went into a building. Again there was no discrimination between the armed and the unarmed, and you didn't know exactly who was inside. People started coming from the area to help the wounded and into this chaos we fired at figures running in all directions, to take out as many as possible. Like a video game, click, click, click. I wanted to shoot. In my eyes it was legitimate, otherwise I would have refused. I was crazed.
"It is highly probably that on the beach there was a child of 12 who was waiting with the narghile for his big brother to come back from guard duty. A person like that is not a legitimate target. I think that I am a war criminal. Supposing that people come to me now, and I'm on my trip, and they put me on trial at the International Court of Justice, what can I tell them? I know that I obeyed an order that is illegal in my eyes. If a relative were to come to me now, I would tell him: I am guilty. Your child was murdered for no reason because we wanted to bring two corpses every night."
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