A Call to Hamas: Release Israeli Civilians Held in Gaza

Palestinians should strive for a higher moral code than the one the Israeli army — and its chief ethicist — follow.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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A photograph Avera Mengistu, 28, from his Facebook page.
A photograph Avera Mengistu, 28, from his Facebook page.
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

What a shame! For a moment there, I thought the guy was showing a drop of empathy for “the other” – Gazans, in this case. But as I read further into Gili Cohen’s July 8 article in Haaretz I saw that Professor Asa Kasher, author of the Israel Defense Forces code of ethics, was not complaining about the deaths of dozens of Palestinians on August 1 that resulted from the operational interpretation of the army’s so-called “Hannibal directive” that he formulated. That protocol outlines the measures to be taken when a soldier has been abducted.

On that day, dubbed “Black Friday,” the IDF used massive force in an effort to prevent the capture of a soldier, who went missing in Rafah and was subsequently declared dead, though his body has yet to be recovered.

In the article (“Israeli soldiers may have killed comrade to prevent his abduction during Gaza war” ), Kasher’s main point of contention was that the Hannibal directive should not be interpreted to permit the killing of a soldier in order to thwart his abduction.

And what about the Gazans who were killed? Not a word. Apparently that’s not a problem. And apparently on this matter the code of ethics was properly followed. Turns out that the hell experienced by the Palestinians following the abduction of the Israeli soldier on that Black Friday during Operation Protective Edge was well within the bounds of Kasher’s code of ethics.

The code of ethics is essentially a list of dos and don’ts, especially under the most difficult circumstances. Because that’s just when an ethical code is most needed – in complicated situations, rather than in normal times. An ethical code is intended to set limits to your side’s freedom of action, so that it doesn’t slide down the slippery slope of committing crimes and immoral actions. But Kasher’s code of ethics is designed for precisely the opposite purpose: To bolster the IDF’s freedom of action and give a seal of approval to morally questionable actions.

From day to day, it appears that the ethics of philosopher Asa Kasher, the pride of the security establishment, basically amounts to rubber-stamping the military’s actions. His ethical code seems to be “Whatever I say goes. Nothing and nobody else matters.” And thus his ethical code becomes devoid of any moral content. You could say that Kasher is essentially acting as a clone of the High Court of Justice, which authorizes all the injustices of the occupation: settlements, house demolitions, closures, targeted assassinations – all of which are banned by international law.

So dear Jewish soldier: Be at peace with your conscience. The legal system gives the okay, as do those in charge of the army’s code of ethics, not to mention politicians – including the opposition – and journalists.

Now the code of ethics is coming back to hit us like a boomerang. This weekend I listened to Prof. Kasher on the radio, going through all sorts of contortions in answering a question about the justification for the gag order that was imposed regarding Ethiopian Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu who is being held in Gaza. That’s what happens when a philosopher acts as the establishment’s mouthpiece: His philosophy becomes worthless. Whatever happened to the days when philosophers broadened people’s outlook on the world?

Good thing Prof. Kasher wasn’t asked about the other citizen being held in Gaza, who had the misfortune to be born to an Arab family. And to make matters worse, he was also born in the Negev, in the area at the center of a government effort to uproot Arab villages and relocate their inhabitants to the margins of the desert. “When the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t hurt,” as the Arab saying goes.

But the main question right now has to be posed to the Gaza authorities: Does the code of humane behavior, and I don’t mean Prof. Kasher’s code here, permit the use of civilians as bargaining chips? After all, neither of these unfortunate civilians has any military involvement in the conflict. And according to all normal and ethical conventions they truly belong at home and not on the negotiating table. Hamas must demonstrate leadership in this matter and return the captives, if it is control of things there.

I expect that some people will be eager to explain to me that Israel holds hundreds of Palestinians without trial, like the administrative detainees, including Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar. They’ll say that the Israeli courts also automatically approve their continued incarceration.

Well, friends, you are right! Israel follows the immoral code of Asa Kasher. The Palestinians must adopt a different code, one that is as far removed as possible from Kasher’s ethics.

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This article was amended on 13.7.2015 to correct a translation error.

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