Uri Avnery, 24.10.09
[Avnery is a venerable veteran among Israeli proponents of a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. He was a member of the Knesset and is now the leader of Gush Shalom. He continues to pioneer as a peace activist.-- AW, editor]
“Where Have All the Friendships Gone…”
ACCORDING TO a Chinese saying, if someone in the street tells you that you are drunk, you can laugh. If a second person tells you that you are drunk, start to think about it. If a third one tells you the same, go home and sleep it off.
Our political and military leadership has already encountered the third, fourth and fifth person. All of them say that they must investigate what happened in the “Molten Lead” operation.
They have three options:
- to conduct a real investigation.
- to ignore the demand and proceed as if nothing has happened.
- to conduct a sham inquiry.
IT IS easy to dismiss the first option: it has not the slightest chance of being adopted. Except for the usual suspects (including myself) who demanded an investigation long before anyone in Israel had heard of a judge called Goldstone, nobody supports it.
Among all the members of our political, military and media establishments who are now suggesting an “inquiry”, there is no one – literally not one – who means by that a real investigation. The aim is to deceive the Goyim and get them to shut up.
Actually, Israeli law lays down clear guidelines for such investigations. The government decides to set up a commission of investigation. The president of the Supreme Court then appoints the members of the commission. The commission can compel witnesses to testify. Anybody who may be damaged by its conclusions must be warned and given the opportunity to defend themself. Its conclusions are binding.
This law has an interesting history. Sometime in the 50s, David Ben-Gurion demanded the appointment of a “judicial committee of inquiry” to decide who gave the orders for the 1954 “security mishap”, also known as the Lavon Affair. (A false flag operation where an espionage network composed of local Jews was activated to bomb American and British offices in Egypt, in order to cause friction between Egypt and the Western powers. The perpetrators were caught.)
Ben-Gurion’s request was denied, under the pretext that there was no law for such a procedure. Furious, Ben-Gurion resigned from the government and left his party. In one of the stormy party sessions, the Minister of Justice, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, called Ben-Gurion a “fascist”. But Shapira, an old Russian Jew, regretted his outburst later. He drafted a special law for the appointment of Commissions of Investigation in the future. After lengthy deliberations in the Knesset (in which I took an active part) the law was adopted and has since been applied, notably in the case of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Now I wholeheartedly support the setting up of a Commission of Investigation according to this law.
THE SECOND option is the one proposed by the army Chief of Staff and the Minister of Defense. In America it is called “stonewalling”. Meaning: To hell with it.
The army commanders object to any investigation and any inquiry whatsoever. They probably know why. After all, they know the facts. They know that a dark shadow lies over the very decision to go to war, over the planning of the operation, over the instructions given to the troops, and over many dozens of large and small acts committed during the operation.
In their opinion, even if their refusal has severe international repercussions, the consequences of any investigation, even a phony one, would be far worse.
As long as the Chief of Staff sticks to this position, there will be no investigation outside the army, whatever the attitude of the ministers. The army chief, who attends every cabinet meeting, is the largest figure in the room. When he announces that such and such is the “position of the army”, no mere politician present would dare to object.
In the “Only Democracy in the Middle East”, the law (proposed at the time by Menachem Begin) stipulates that the Government as such is the Commander in Chief of the Israel Defense Forces. That is the theory. In practice, no decision at variance with the “position of the army” has ever been or will ever be adopted.
The army claims to be investigating itself. Ehud Barak represents – willingly or unwillingly – this position. The cabinet has postponed dealing with the matter, and that’s where things stand today.
ON THIS occasion, the spotlight should be turned on the least visible person in Israel: the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the ultimate Teflon-man. Nothing sticks to him. In this debate, as in all others, he just is not there.
Everybody knows that Ashkenazi is a shy and modest man. He hardly ever speaks, writes or speechifies. On television, he merges into the background.
This is how he looks to the public: an honest soldier, without tricks or ploys, who does his duty quietly, receives his orders from the government and fulfills them loyally. In this he differs from almost all his predecessors, who were boastful, publicity-crazy and loquacious. While most them came from famous elite units or the arrogant Air Force, he is a grey infantry man. The Duke of Wellington, seeing the huge amount of paperwork in his army, once exclaimed: “Soldiers should fight, not write!” He would have liked Ashkenazi
But reality is not always what it seems. Ashkenazi plays a central role in the decision-making process. He was appointed after his predecessor, Dan Halutz, resigned after the failures of Lebanon War II. Under Ashkenazi’s leadership, new doctrines were formulated and put into action in the “Molten Lead” operation. I defined them (on my own responsibility) as “Zero Losses” and “Better to kill a hundred enemy civilians than to lose one of our own soldiers”. Since the Gaza war did not lead to a single soldier being put on trial, Ashkenazi must bear the responsibility for everything that happened there.
If an indictment were issued by the International Court in The Hague, Ashkenazi would probably be accorded the place of honor as “Defendant No. 1”. No wonder that he objects to any outside investigation, as does Ehud Barak, who would probably occupy the No. 2 place.
THE POLITICIANS who oppose (ever so quietly) the Chief of Staff’s position believe that it is impossible to withstand international pressure completely, and that some kind of an inquiry will have to be conducted. Since not one of them intends to hold a real investigation, they propose to follow a tried and trusted Israeli method, which has worked wonderfully hundreds of times in the past: the method of sham.
A sham inquiry. Sham conclusions. Sham adherence to international law. Sham civilian control over the military.
Nothing simpler than that. An “inquiry committee” (but not a Commission of Investigation according to the law) will be set up, chaired by a suitably patriotic judge and composed of carefully chosen honorable citizens who are all “one of us”. Testimonies will be heard behind closed doors (for considerations of security, of course). Army lawyers will prove that everything was perfectly legal, the National Whitewasher, Professor Asa Kasher, will laud the ethics of the Most Moral Army in the World. Generals will speak about our inalienable right to self-defense. In the end, two or three junior officers or privates may be found guilty of “irregularities”.
Israel’s friends all over the world will break into an ecstatic chorus: What a lawful state! What a democracy! What morality! Western governments will declare that justice has been done and the case closed. The US veto will see to the rest.
So why don’t the army chiefs accept this proposal? Because they are afraid things might not proceed quite so smoothly. The international community will demand that at least part of the hearings be conducted in open court. There will be a demand for the presence of international observers. And, most importantly: there will be no justifiable way to exclude the testimonies of the Gazans themselves. Things will get complicated. The world will not accept fabricated conclusions. In the end we will be in exactly the same situation. Better to stay put and brave it out, whatever the price.
IN THE meantime, international pressure on Israel is increasing. Even now it has reached unprecedented proportions.
Russia and China have voted in favor of the endorsement of the Goldstone report by the UN. The UK and France “did not take part in the vote”, but demanded that Israel conduct a real investigation. We have quarreled with Turkey, until now an important military ally. We have altercations with Sweden, Norway and a number of other friendly countries. The French Foreign Minister has been prevented from crossing into the Gaza Strip and is furious. The already cold peace with Egypt and Jordan has become several degrees colder. Israel is boycotted in many forums. Senior army officers are afraid to travel abroad for fear of arrest.
This raises the question once more: can outside pressure have an impact on Israel?
Certainly it can. The question is: what kind of pressure, what kind of impact?
The pressure has indeed convinced several ministers that an inquiry committee for the Goldstone report has to be set up. But no one in the Israeli establishment – no one at all! – has raised the real question: Perhaps Goldstone is right? Except for the usual suspects, no one in the media, the Knesset or the government has asked: Perhaps war crimes have indeed been committed? The outside pressure has not forced such questions to be raised. They must come from the inside, from the public itself.
The kind of pressure must also be considered. The Goldstone report has an impact on the world because it is precise and targeted: a specific operation, for which specific persons are responsible. It raises a specific demand: an investigation. It attacks a clear and well-defined target: war crimes.
If we apply this to the debate about boycotting Israel: the Goldstone report may be compared to a targeted boycott on the settlements and their helpers, not an unlimited boycott of the State of Israel. A targeted boycott can have a positive impact. A comprehensive, unlimited boycott would – in my opinion – achieve the opposite. It would push the Israeli public further into the arms of the extreme Right.
The struggle over the Goldstone report is now at its height. In Jerusalem, the rising energy of the waves can be clearly felt. Does this portend a tsunami?