Analysis

High Court Just Saved Israel From the Heartless Decision to Turn Cancer-stricken Gazans Away

‘The meaning of the [security cabinet decision] is to put a woman to death, in simple terms, because of the crimes of her brother or husband,’ said one of the judges

Palestinian cancer patients take part in a protest to demand to travel for treatment, in Gaza City.
Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto

The High Court of Justice saved itself, the security cabinet and all of us – since the security cabinet is acting in our names and on our behalf – from responsibility for the deaths of five Gaza women with cancer who were being prevented from receiving life-saving medical treatment.

All these women had asked for was to pass through Israel to receive urgent and critical life-saving treatments in East Jerusalem (at the expense of the Palestinian Authority), mainly complex neurosurgery treatments.

Their requests were denied, according to the decision of the security cabinet, on an across-the-board, rather than individual basis – just because they had a close relative who is a Hamas activist. The purpose of the refusal was to put pressure on Hamas to release the missing Israelis held in Gaza along with the bodies of the fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul held by Hamas.

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No claim was made that any of the women involved constituted a threat to Israel’s national security or citizens. The High Court rightfully ruled that the goal of bringing home the soldiers and captive civilians is worthy and important, but does not justify all means. The tool the security cabinet wanted to use is unacceptable because it places the lives of the ill women in concrete danger, as noted by Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman. Or as Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit said: “The meaning of the [security cabinet decision] is to put a woman to death, in simple terms, because of the crimes of her brother or husband, in contradiction to the basic Jewish rule: ‘But every one shall die for his own iniquity.’”

The only decision that could be acceptable from a legal and moral standpoint was to overrule the security cabinet decision as unreasonable and to allow the women to travel to receive the medical treatments. A black flag of clear-cut, outrageous illegality flies over the security cabinet decision, one that only a blind eye and heartless soul could refuse to see. Much more grave is that the decision did not come from a senior military commander but from the country’s highest political leadership and it reflects a lack of respect for the lives of Gazans.

>> Read more: What It's Like Being a Cancer Patient in Gaza | Opinion 

The obvious question arises about the IDF, which claims to be the most moral army in the world. The army can, if it has the proper commanders – and luckily it now has such leadership – be more moral than the politicians. But is the military, which is under the command of the political echelon, capable of distancing itself far enough from the politicians’ morality – or lack thereof? That morality, as it manifested itself in this case, is the morality of the heartless. It is very strange, and particularly worrying, that the attorney general and his staff, too, were unable to notice the black color of the flag and somehow thought it was white, or at least gray.

It is encouraging to see that the High Court is an institution that learns, that it has organizational memory. It did not ignore the fact that intelligence assessments show that there is very limited effectiveness to applying this type of pressure.

This was the case in efforts to find the late Ron Arad. Lebanese prisoners were held in administrative detention in Israel after completing their sentences for low-level activity in a Lebanese terrorist organization – they were meant to serve as negotiating cards in return for information on the fate of the missing IDF navigator.

Intelligence officials repeatedly estimated, for almost 10 years, that holding these men would bear fruit, an assessment that turned out to be nothing more than an unfounded wish. So, Amit writes about a similar assessment in this case, too: “Happy are the believers.” The High Court stood on the principle of personal responsibility, as a basic moral principle, and its ruling strengthens this important principle, which every enlightened nation must respect. There is no choice but to mention that Israel does not always adhere to this principle – for example when it comes to the demolition of the homes of terrorists, which is carried out at times even when the terrorist himself was killed.

But nonetheless, we must admit the political leadership has achieved some of what it wanted, maybe not everything but a respectable part of it. The women were unable to receive their urgent, life-saving treatments for months. This meant their conditions worsened, and may have even sealed their fate. Just to teach us that brutality pays.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked may also learn a lesson from this affair. Even the most conservative judge is not conservative enough to meet Shaked’s expectations. Only if she manages to appoint brainless and heartless judges will she be able to achieve what she really wants.