Let the Sunshine in and Open Commissions of Inquiry Sessions to the Public

Zehava Galon
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The Second Lebanon War, 2006
Zehava Galon

Monday is the 15th anniversary of the start of the Second Lebanon War, in which 49 Israeli civilians and 121 soldiers were killed. It has become a symbol of the folly and irresponsibility of the government and army, which dragged the state into a needless war while concealing their failures behind lies. It was neither the first nor the last time they demonstrated these traits.

On April 30 this year, 45 people were trampled and suffocated to death and another 109 were injured – many of them minors – at Mount Meron. Immediately after the disaster, the Haredi politicians who were responsible for it began obscuring the part of their masters, the rabbis, in it, and conscienceless cynics such as then-Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tried to cover up the events. Only when the new government was formed was it decided to establish a state commission of inquiry, a move greeted with screams by Ohana and the Haredim.

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Like an iceberg, only the tip of which protrudes from the water, the submarine affair has been for years a presence in our lives. It has raised difficult questions about the ties among the defense establishment, the political establishment and the machers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s circle. The suspicion, which has a reasonable foundation, that public funds were directed to improper purposes must be exposed and investigated in the sunlight. Otherwise, the loss of trust in the government will undermine the foundations of democracy.

That is why Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was right to promise to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the affair. But a commission of inquiry is not enough. Even though the law on inquiry commissions states that its sessions must be open to the public, it adds a reservation saying that the commission “has the authority to hold a session, all or part of which is behind closed doors.” This addition was like a gift of God to governments, which always prefer to hide their own failures.

Recently, Meretz lawmaker Yair Golan submitted a bill, drafted by the Zulat Institute for Equality and Human Rights, that would require commissions of inquiry to publish transcripts of their sessions throughout the process, and not only after the completion of hearings. The principle that would guide them is transparency and the public’s right to know. Concealment would be the exception and would require justification.

In the end, we are talking about people’s lives. The Winograd Commission, which examined the military disaster known as the Second Lebanon War, held its sessions far from the public eye. Only after two petitions that I submitted to the High Court of Justice, with attorney Dafna Holtz-Lechner, and despite the opposition of Judge Eliyahu Winograd, who argued that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert feared harming national security, foreign relations and the privacy of public figures – did the High Court require the commission to release the minutes even before it published its final conclusions.

One can speculate whether the defense establishment and the government would have avoided demonstrating the stupidity and arrogance they showed during the war if only the full report of the Agranat Commission on the Yom Kippur War had been published at the time, and had set a precedent in which negligence and misconduct must be exposed.

Our dead are lying before us. Their blood cries out to us from the earth. We have a duty – as citizens, as brothers – to guarantee that such disasters will not happen again. To do so, the public needs to know, in real time, everything that there is no urgent military need to conceal. To this end, commissions of inquiry must hold open sessions. The public needs to know what happened, and now – not after its memory has faded.

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