The Buck Should Stop

The trend of initiating legal proceedings against someone who someone else somewhere decides to accuse of war crimes could become quite absurd.

Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, accompanied by the heads of the police divisions that participated in the pullout from Gaza and the northern West Bank - Brigadiers General Aharon Franco and Hagai Dotan - left yesterday for Berlin to attend the Interpol Convention. They will also be traveling to Madrid to exchange information with the Spanish police. The trip affords Franco and Dotan an opportunity to take things easy following the effort of the evacuation - unless they are ambushed by a local attorney acting on behalf of the "oranges," who demands their arrest for expelling a population from occupied territory.

The trend of initiating legal proceedings against someone who someone else somewhere decides to accuse of war crimes could become quite absurd. It is customary for soldiers and jurists to ponder the question of "where the buck stops" - namely, at which link in the chain of command. Ahead of the evacuation, when the Gaza Division began preparing a series of "iron fist" operations to counter a possible Palestinian assault on the evacuees and evacuating forces, it turned out that the Israel Defense Forces wasn't the first to adopt such an approach. The Americans used the same term in Iraq; Uganda used it against an underground based in Sudan; and in July, UN forces in Haiti mounted an "iron fist" operation against gangs. According to The Washington Post, 1,400 "heavily armed peacekeepers" raided a poverty-stricken neighborhood, killed the gang leader and six of his henchmen, and wounded dozens of women and children - a bullet killed the fetus of a pregnant woman. The peacekeepers came from Brazil, Peru and Jordan; Argentine and Chilean helicopters provided aerial support. The Peruvians went in big, firing off 5,500 bullets, grenades and mortars.

If a former Israeli living in London is shocked by this, let him do the honorable thing and file a complaint against UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the commanders of the armies that provided units for "iron fist" Haiti-style. At the same time, he can also demand that charges be brought against two former Canadian chiefs of staff, John de Chastelain and Jean Boyle, who were stained by the crime scandal involving a Canadian paratroop brigade on a previous peace mission in Somalia. The paratroopers abused the locals and in one case, at least, they shot someone who had infiltrated their base in the back, as he was fleeing (according to even more damning testimony, the soldiers "confirmed the kill" while the man was lying on the ground). These are not fictional scenarios from exercises compiled by the Military Advocate General's Office; they are events that happened.

Israeli paratroopers and other IDF soldiers, as well as Border Police members, have also been involved in war crimes (including the murder of prisoners) that the army suppresses and hides from its new conscripts - but these did not occur among the current generation, insofar as is known. But sweeping the crimes of the past under the rug is one thing, while false accusations of new crimes is something else entirely. Denouncing senior IDF and Shin Bet security service officials in the 21st century as war criminals is as untrue as the "Jenin massacre," which never was. Unintentional killing is in the nature of combat - from the USS Liberty incident, to the Tze'elim Bet incident and including the 14 civilians killed in the operation to assassinate Salah Shehadeh.

For the past five years, Israel and the Palestinian terror organizations - supported by Hezbollah, Iran and Al-Qaida - have been locked in combat. Every explosion on an urban bus, every Qassam on Sderot, any act of violence against civilians is a war crime. In keeping with a narrow, wise-guy legal approach, Israel can issue arrest warrants against those suspected of involvement in these crimes, and can authorize the security forces to "kill or capture" them - in that order - in the recent language of U.S. President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

A travel ban from Israel is not such a terrible punishment - the Americans imposed it, for all intents and purposes, on Jonathan Pollard's Israeli handlers - but neither is it just. If former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon and Israel Air Force officials (in this case, not their commander, Dan Halutz, who was abroad; the Southern Command played no part in the operation) had failed to fulfill their duty to kill Shehadeh, the families of the victims of the man's next terror attack would have been entitled to demand that they take responsibility for the shortcoming.

Not everything that is unwise - and there have been many examples of this in the territories - is also illegal. An ambulance driver who is rushing a critically wounded patient to hospital, loses control of the vehicle and slams into an innocent pedestrian is responsible for the harm, but is not a criminal.