To what was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referring when he stated at last week's cabinet meeting, "It is inconceivable for such phenomena to occur here in Israel"?
Was it the situation in which, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 13.2 percent of Palestinian children are suffering from prolonged malnutrition and 9.3 percent from temporary malnutrition? The dropping of a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood, killing 15 people? The withholding of medical aid? The daily liquidations of "wanted" Palestinians? The jailing of hundreds of thousands of people for two years within the framework of collective punishment? The deportation and demolition of the homes of the families of terrorists? The culture of racist manifestations with regard to the Arabs who are Israeli citizens?
We haven't heard an expression of shock from Sharon or his cabinet ministers about any of these phenomena. But the prime minister, and, in his wake, a uniform chorus of spokespersons - from Reuven Rivlin to Yossi Beilin - were shocked by the initiative of the Gush Shalom peace activists who wrote letters to 15 Israel Defense Forces officers, warning them that material evidence was being collected against them relating to their activity in the territories, with the intention of submitting it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on suspicion that the officers are guilty of war crimes. "That is worse than a refusal [to serve in the territories]," the prime minister asserted.
Indeed, for a political movement to collect incriminating material about army personnel, with the goal of submitting the material to international courts, is problematic: Are there not enough authorities in Israel that have the task of collecting material if the suspicion of war crimes arises, and then placing those responsible on trial? Why the need for actions of a kind usually attributed to informers?
But before we rush to attack Gush Shalom, we would do well to consider a few questions. First: Are the soldiers and officers of the IDF in fact carrying out operations that could be suspected of constituting war crimes? If so, they should be stopped, even if doing so entails controversial means. The very fact of the outcry raised by the IDF and the government is cause for suspecting that we do have something to hide. Lately the IDF Spokesman's apparatus has made several moves that are intended to persuade the media and the officer corps from making public the names and photographs of soldiers and commanding officers who are serving in the territories, for fear of the court at The Hague. The need to conceal the faces of the soldiers, as though they were criminals hiding their faces from the cameras in a court of law, raises the question of whether the IDF is convinced that it is acting with what was once known as "purity of arms."
Beyond this, some of the actions undertaken by Israel in the past few months as part of its war on terrorism need to be subjected to a moral and judicial test; but there is no chance of that being done here. These actions include depriving hundreds of thousands of people of normal supplies and of the possibility of making a living, to the point where malnutrition has been caused; dozens of liquidations of people and not only of "ticking bombs;" the demolition of the homes of people who have done no wrong; blocking medical treatment; and deportation. Is there no suspicion here of war crimes for which someone should perhaps be accountable?
But who is going to place anyone on trial? Unfortunately, in the past two years it has become clear, even more so than in the past, that there is no one to turn to in Israel in connection with these subjects. The IDF has almost completely ceased to investigate instances of killing in the territories, in contrast to its policy in the first intifada. If someone suspects that IDF soldiers killed someone with no justification and in violation of the law, what recourse does he have? Who will investigate the death of newborn infants and sick people caused by the refusal of soldiers to allow ambulances or people in distress to pass by checkpoints, if the IDF does not do so seriously? Can we entrust this task to the High Court of Justice? After all, its voice, too, has become almost mute in connection with security issues. The High Court justices have declared in the past that it is not within their purview to apply the rules of war to the liquidation policy; and last week, they ruled that the IDF no longer had the duty to warn Palestinians that their homes were going to be demolished. So another vital force for restraint in Israeli society has been eroded.
If people believe that the liquidations are causing Israeli serious damage and are contrary to international law, to whom will they appeal? If the IDF were to order proper investigations of suspected violations of human rights and were to place proven violators on trial, and if the High Court were ready to fulfill its duty and intervene in cases of the infraction of the law in the territories, no Israeli organization would consider turning to international bodies. In the present situation, though, there are political movements, human rights groups and individuals for whom Israel's moral image is precious enough that they are willing to take exceptional steps to preserve it. They are no less patriotic than anyone else.
Nor should we condemn those who think that sanctions should be imposed on Israel. The apartheid regime in South Africa came to an end, in part, because of the sanctions that were imposed on the country. Unlike South Africa, Israel does not have to replace its regime, only to put an end to the occupation - and for that, it needs the world's help. The caution that soldiers must now employ could turn out to be beneficial: Perhaps the IDF will henceforth consider matters a little more deeply before dropping another mega-bomb in the heart of a residential neighborhood.
In a situation in which the legislative branch, the Supreme Court, the attorney general, parts of the media and the majority of the public are being derelict in their duty, turning away from what is going on and refusing to see what we are perpetrating on others and on ourselves, too, the appeal to the world is the last recourse. Those who are making use of it want only the good of an Israel that has right on its side.
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