Friday, January 9, 2009

“Passive” refusal is not enough to prevent war crimes

Even very few “select” people like computer experts can prevent war crimes on a large scale. Due to reliance on computer systems, there has never been so much power concentrated in the hands of so few “simple” individuals. Such experts can now prevent and stop war crimes.

“Passive” refusal is not enough to prevent war crimes

This I know from my own experience as a young Nahal soldier in the Six Day War of 1967. We were attached to a makeshift Golani battalion whose commander was Lieutenant-Colonel Ganz (I don’t remember his first name) and we were part of the force that occupied Nablus. We were at the outskirts of the city when the commander brought to us a group of young Palestinian civilians. He claimed that they were Jordanian soldiers who had discarded their uniforms. Therefore, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Ganz, they were to be treated as spies, meaning that they were to be executed, and he ordered us to do so.

We refused to obey to this manifestly illegal order, but then two of our platoon (one was Sergeant Ilan Polivoda) volunteered to slaughter the poor guys. We were shocked and we felt that by our refusal in the battlefield we had done our utmost as simple soldiers vis-à-vis the Lieutenant-Colonel. We were not aware of the illegality of the order and merely reacted according to our feelings and upbringing.

The bottom line is that the crime was committed and our refusal did not prevent it. This is obviously the limit of “passive” refusal, because it does not prevent others from committing war crimes.

To this day I am haunted by the image of one of those poor guys condemned to die, who somehow anticipated what awaited him. He crawled on the ground and scratched it with his nails and whined like a wounded animal. And I just stood there with a bleeding heart and could not help.

This is only one of many such stories from that war. I have heard similar stories from many soldiers. And the uncensored version of the cult book of soldiers’ testimonies “Siah Lohamim” (The Seventh Day: Soldiers' Talk About the Six-Day in English), as published in the PhD. thesis of the historian Alon Gan, includes similar descriptions.

Today soldiers can more easily prevent war crimes in the making. They must do so, and we must draw their attention to that fact.

Even very few “select” people like computer experts can prevent war crimes on a large scale. Due to reliance on computer systems, there has never been so much power concentrated in the hands of so few “simple” individuals. Such experts can now prevent and stop war crimes.

Politics is much too serious a thing to be left to politicians and generals.

In a  legal analysis an Israeli lawyer proves that it is actually the duty of Israeli soldiers to do all in their might to prevent and disrupt ongoing war crimes. He refers directly to the Israeli army’s computer experts.

He writes:

“…Accordingly, soldiers in a position to prevent or disrupt war crimes are under the obligation to do so. For example, if they can access computers, communication systems, electricity or supplies and thus prevent a war crime, then the result of the above-mentioned analysis shows they are obliged to do so. By accessing the war crimes perpetrator’systems to prevent the commission of war crimes they are exercising their duty under international law norms to prevent mass killings or other grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As mentioned above, their action would also be mandated by Israeli jurisprudence.”

It is beyond any doubt that it is not and cannot be defined as illegal to draw the attention of Israeli soldiers to their moral and legal duty. It is even our duty to do so (See the appeal to Israeli soldiers in three languages

The stratagem used by the legal experts of the Israeli “defence” ministry to try to render war crimes “kosher” is nothing but a squalid ruse. On 7 December 2008 the legal advisor of the “security” system, Ahaz Ben-Ari, issued an expert opinion stating that if the Israeli army warns the civilian population in advance to evacuate the area to be attacked, artillery shelling or other attacks are allegedly allowed under international law. Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, a leading expert, alleged on Israeli radio on 5 December 2008 that even according to the Geneva Convention the presence of civilians in a military target does not automatically disqualify it as an objective for an attack.

Without being a legal expert it seems to me that according to international law and not just according to the moral code, there is a barrier to such attacks, and it is called “the proportionality principle” by jurists. This principle cannot be just arbitrarily expanded (see an interesting discussion on the subject on the Israeli Social TV. The discussion is in Hebrew with Arabic, English and Russian subtitles).

Please distribute widely the call in three languages to Israeli soldiers immediately to act accordingly:

This urgent legal call should be publicized in all media. It is our duty to support it in every way. A continuation of the present situation or further escalation means even more bloodshed.

Even if not a single soldier heeds the call, this would still constitute additional crucial pressure upon the Israeli leadership to seek a just political. As this leadership will not be able to tell if there is still at least at least one righteous person in Gomorra …

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