Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas says willing to cooperate with ICC to advance Palestinian cause
Hamas announced on Friday that the Palestinian Islamist group is willing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to advance the Palestinian cause, indicating that it would hand over officials to the international tribunal.Hamas official Khalil al-Haya in a state said “the referral to the ICC is not inconsistent with the organization’s [Hamas’] continued resistance [against Israel] in all its forms, as it carries the goal of garnering all rights, including that of armed resistance.”
He added that the terror group which controls Gaza was confident of a victory over Israel in “legal conflict.”
Over at Haaretz, Amos Harel and Gili Cohen interviewed the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni to discuss his tenure and the investigation of various incidents during Protective Edge.
“You will never hear me say, ‘The IDF is the most moral army in the world,’” declares Efroni, who refuses to adopt the mantra decreed by then-Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz during the second intifada [2000-2006] and recited ever since, as though it were holy writ, by the top levels of the government and the army. “I think that our army has good values, but some of this has to do with the fact that it investigates and examines suspected offenses in a professional way. If we don’t do that, the IDF’s values will very much be thrown into question.”
If Efroni’s investigations are considered independent and thorough by the ICC, it may refuse to consider the Palestinian Authority’s appeal. And this is important due to the sheer death and destruction wreaked upon Gaza by the IDF last year.
Even according to the mildest version of events, more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians were killed by IDF fire, among them hundreds of children. The Israeli government is hoping that the work by the military advocate general and his people will allow to it to fend off at least some of the criticism in the international arena.In right-wing parties, though, as well as, to a large extent, among IDF field commanders, there has been strong opposition to the investigation policy. Why, they ask, does the prosecutor’s unit need to examine a field commander’s judgment during a war?
The elephant in the room is the number of children murdered in their homes by IDF pilots dropping largely US-made precision bombs on them. And in case you still (somehow) believed the IDF does not have a policy of targeting homes with sleeping children inside, let’s let Efroni enlighten you.
One of the most controversial measures implemented by the IDF during the war was a systematic attack on the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders, on the grounds that the residences were used for “command and control purposes” because the commanders turned their homes into operations rooms of a sort. Thus, scores of houses were demolished and, in a number of cases, many civilians were killed as a result of hitches in the “knock on the roof” procedure aimed at evacuating civilians from the building before bombing it.Efroni confirms that the prosecution “is examining the attack policy in Operation Protective Edge. Under the rules of international law, it is permissible to attack a target if it is a military target. A home does not become a target because of a telephone line that is used for operational communications by the enemy. But if the commander is directing the battalion’s fighting from there, and his subordinates are coming to his house to consult with him, it is a military target. We didn’t decide to bomb all the commanders’ homes. There were homes we didn’t approve for attack.”
The MAG adds that, sometimes, an attack that gains relatively high legitimacy does not conform to the rules of war. “Suppose you made sure no one was in the house and then you destroyed the commander’s home, without casualties. The international community will not protest, but from the legal point of view you must not bomb it unless military use of the home has been proven.” According to Efroni, the demolition of multistory buildings was legally approved only because it was proved that those buildings were serving as Hamas operations rooms. “We did not permit punitive actions against buildings unless there was an operational context for that,” he adds.
“Hitches in the knock on the roof procedure” is a bit disingenuous when we’re discussing a deliberate policy of targeting and destroying houses. Home demolitions are illegal collective punishment in and of themselves. Home demolitions while families are in them is murder plain and simple.The use of the term “commander” should also be questioned. The IDF has an interest in suggesting these targets were both actively engaged in military action, and senior leaders. The goal is to present the murder of hundreds of children in the course of assassinations as somehow excusable.
Yes, the killing of these children was murder. It was pre-meditated. It cannot be justified. It was carried out with malicious intent. And the entire command heirarchy of the IDF is culpable.
Not convinced? Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine Hamas had bombs capable of targeting IDF commanders’ homes and justified it by saying they took phone calls or met with soldiers there? Or maybe they bomb a random person’s home that an Israeli target happened to be visiting? Or a home in a kibbutz by the Gaza border that the IDF was using as a base which still had elderly residents living among the soldiers and their equipment?
No? Still think there’s something special about the children of Hamas members that excuses their murder? Well then how about if Palestinian militia had bombed the homes of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir at Passover in 1945, killing their entire extended families? They were senior leaders of terrorist organizations that bombed markets, buses and yes, homes as well.
If you recoil at that, you should recoil at the sanitized, high-altitude, high-tech version of the same deed that the IDF employed.
Efroni has the decency to admit that the “most moral army” claim is laughable since the IDF has a calculated policy of murdering entire families. But he can’t help himself from claiming some absolution is possible because “we didn’t decide to bomb all the commanders’ homes”. They bombed just enough homes to let everyone know the IDF could at the push of a button destroy their entire family, root and branch, and had no compunction doing so.
The people of Gaza are not just “Israel’s enemies”. They are the people who were expelled 67 years ago from their land by the militias that became the IDF. They have lived under a brutal Israeli military occupation for 48 years. And in case you’re wondering how the IDF knows so much about what goes on in Gaza, yes, they operate a surveillance state which relies on blackmailing gays and those seeking medical care to turn them into informants.
Children and other civilians do not lose their protected status as civilians just because someone in their family is fighting a brutal military occupation by making calls and taking meetings from the next room.
The big question, in my mind, is whether or not the very highest echelon of the IDF gets prosecuted for this policy. Till that happens, prosecuting grunts for stealing credit cards is a fig leaf.
You might wonder how a supposedly professional army, commanded by a supposedly democratic civilian government can arrive at the point where it thinks it routine to murder entire families without batting an eyelid? To wrap our heads around that, we’ll have to look at a far smaller incident, in the West Bank.
Haaretz found time to interview a young Palestinian boy who had been arrested in the West Bank by the IDF in a particularly brutal fashion.
When will you go back to leading a regular life, we asked him this week. “God knows,” he replied indifferently.IDF soldiers sicced dogs on Hamzeh last December. Two months later, the ultranationalist former MK Michael Ben Ari posted a video clip documenting the event on his Facebook page, writing, “The soldiers taught the little terrorist a lesson.” His purpose in posting the clip, he explained, was to ensure “that every dinky terrorist who plans to harm our soldiers will learn that there’s a price [to be paid].”
Soldiers from the Oketz canine unit were seen in the clip taunting the petrified boy as one of their dogs sank its teeth into him and held him in a vice-like grip. “Who’s a chicken, who’s a chicken, you son of a bitch,” they yelled at the teen, urging the dogs on.
The video generated a furor. The IDF, admitting that what had happened was a “serious incident,” suspended the use of dogs to neutralize stone-throwing children, at least temporarily. But no one thought to free the victim of the attack after what he’d gone through. Hamzeh remained in prison. His parents were not allowed to visit him even once. Their only contact with him was in the form of hurried encounters from a distance in the courtroom, once when the boy was brought to have his remand extended, and then at his trial on a charge of throwing stones at soldiers.
Hamzeh is 16 years old.When Israeli politicians call children “little terrorists” the process of de-humanizing them is well underway. It is difficult to order someone to murder a sleeping child. But ordering a pilot to drop a bomb on the home of a sleeping “little terrorist” is somewhat easier.
Hamzeh is still alive, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be treated like a child by the IDF “military justice” system.
The medical personnel wanted to let him at least speak to his parents by phone, he says now, but the soldiers refused to allow him even one call. For his parents to visit him in the hospital was out of the question, of course. Security considerations.
After Hamzeh was discharged from hospital, the “dinky terrorist” was interrogated by the Shin Bet. He was asked about other stone throwers, and about his brothers and his family.It’s hard to get more details from him. He explains that he was required to sign a confession stating that he threw stones that hit soldiers. But this week back at home, he said he didn’t throw any.
Be that as it may, it was only three weeks after he was wounded and arrested that his parents were allowed to visit him.
Their home has had its share of arrests. In 2012, the father and three of his sons were detained by the Israeli forces. This was Hamzeh’s third fourth jail sentence for throwing stones – the previous ones were shorter. In court, he had a momentary meeting with his brother Mohammed, who, a few weeks earlier, had been sentenced to 14 months in prison.
Another brother, Yusuf, now enters the living room; he was released from prison five months ago.
Let’s call this policy of arresting children by the dozens and hundreds and locking them up away from their families, what it is. Kidnapping by a well armed, well oiled tyranny.And let’s be absolutely clear. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is illegal, though sometimes Israel’s legal system can’t decide whether or not there is, in fact, any such thing as an occupation. The people paying the heaviest price for this occupation are Palestinian children who find themselves, their society and their families persecuted and brutalized. Followed by the not-much-older than children Israel slaps uniforms on and sends them to enforce with brutality.
And if you didn’t think it could get any worse, here’s the American view (doubtless informed by our own drone program’s complicity).
Last November, some two months after the war in the Gaza Strip ended, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey surprised a few people. Speaking at a conference in New York, he said Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to prevent injury to innocent people in Gaza. “The Israel Defense Forces is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” he added.
Sure, and we weren’t “interested in creating civilian casualties” when dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.The Israel Defense Forces is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re indifferent to them. That’s because they’re the wrong kind of dead civilian. The Palestinian kind. The “little terrorist” kind.
Haaretz also asked some pointed questions about previous investigations which are widely judged to have been toothless by human rights organizations.
About six months ago, two human-rights organizations, B’Tselem and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, claimed that the investigation system in the IDF is a failure and that Israel “is not interested and not capable of investigating violations of Palestinians’ human rights by the security forces.” B’Tselem, which the military prosecution often turned to for help in reaching Palestinian witnesses and evidence, is refusing to help, on the grounds that the investigations aren’t arriving at the truth. Thus, for example, B’Tselem staff have reported that, out of 52 Military Police probes opened after Operation Cast Lead, only three culminated in the filing of indictments – and the severest punishment was for a soldier who stole a credit card.Ben Eliezer rejects these claims outright, saying he doesn’t accept “populist claims and the use of statistics. It’s not relevant to show the number of indictments that were filed or the people who were tried. In the end, it’s a detailed examination of the evidentiary material and a concrete decision. Statistics are meaningless in this matter. It’s demagoguery,” he says.
He does, however, agree with one claim by the human-rights organizations. The IDF investigatory system, says Ben Eliezer, should work faster. The prolonging of probes has often meant that soldiers who were key suspects in cases of Palestinian deaths were demobilized, and after half a year were outside the jurisdiction of military law, which can cause the case to take even longer. “In the end, because of the complexity, things take time,” he explains.
Since the war, the examining committee – initially headed by Maj. Gen. Tibon and, following his retirement from the IDF, now by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan – has looked into some 120 incidents in which suspicions arose of transgression of military law. Of them, 65 incidents were forwarded for examination by the military prosecution, which has opened investigations into six of them and, in the meantime, closed 17 additional cases without launching criminal probes. At the prosecution’s initiative, another 13 investigations that did not go through the General Staff committee are also underway. These investigations deal, inter alia, with complaints of looting, torturing of detainees, and harm to a civilian woman who was carrying a white flag.
In the same breath, he adds, “The explanation I sometimes hear, to the effect that everything we do is aimed only at protecting the soldiers from the court in The Hague, is a miserable statement. A Military Police probe is not an insurance policy for the IDF. If the probe is a whitewash and not a true investigation, nothing will stop the ICC.”