February 1, 2009
By Gideon Levy
One silence, of all the shameful silences, has thus far roared especially loud – the silence of the jurists. The 41,000 attorneys in the State of Israel are entrusted with protecting its image as a lawful state, and this large and grand army has once again strayed from its function. There is a deep suspicion throughout the world that Israel carried out a series of war crimes, and the jurists of our country are holding their peace.
Where, for instance, is Aharon Barak when we really need him? Where are his colleagues, the former justices of the Supreme Court, who knew very well how to raise their voices when Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann threatened to harm the apple of their eye, and who now hide in their cowardly silence?
Where is Mishael Cheshin, who threatened to cut off the hand of anyone who raises it against the Supreme Court no less, and now, with a heavy shadow being cast before us, does not say a word?
Do they not know that disproportionately harming a civilian population, supply convoys and medical crews, the use of white phosphorus in the midst of population centers and indiscriminate bombings are considered war crimes? What is their response to their enraged colleagues around the world? Are they convinced that Israel carried out these crimes or not? In both instances, their voice is vital and their silence is abominable.
This war nearly did not make it onto the agendas of a majority of jurists in Israel. One look at the (Hebrew) Web site of the Israel Bar Association shows that the latest issues with which it is preoccupied are “The reservist soldier and his rights,” “Discounts and benefits for business owners in the south,” “Payment of membership fees – now by way of the bar” and “Flower design, a fun-filled workshop for lawyers in the southern district.”
Not one word about the issue of crimes. The Israel Bar cannot be bothered with it. With the exception of a few courageous lawyers, nobody is disturbed by the worrying legal aspects of the war. Hundreds of children killed are not a sufficient reason to cry out when one is busy with flower design.
There is only one group now preoccupied with the war: the members of the Israel Defense Forces international law division, who continue to serve their bosses with piercing obedience, legitimizing every criminal act. They have already stated, for instance, that the criminal bombardment of a police academy graduation ceremony is acceptable in the eyes of international law. They have also ruled that picking up the telephone and calling those whose house is about to be destroyed is sufficient to warrant this cruel form of collective punishment, which is also a war crime.
Now their commander, Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, is about to join the staff of lecturers at Tel Aviv University’s law faculty, where she will present her doctrine of “devious jurisprudence that permits mass killing,” in the words of the jurist Professor Haim Ganz, to students who will be happy to hear that Israel’s filthy hands are as clean as a baby’s.
This is not a case of one lawyer-colonel’s opinion, as the faculty heads demagogically claim, but her deeds. It is feared that she is an accomplice to the commission of war crimes and as such ought to be disqualified from teaching. Her addition to the faculty will serve as encouragement to those advocating an academic boycott against Israel. Her prospective students will continue to be educated according to the inglorious tradition of silence and legitimization: The jurists of Israel are always ready to keep quiet or legitimize any military operation. The judicial establishment has been enlisted, or to be more precise, has itself enlisted, and it has a hand in the act.
Whoever honestly followed the events of the war knows that the question is no longer whether crimes were committed, but who bears responsibility for them. Legal minds the world over are now diligently preparing legal cases detailing crimes allegedly committed, and only here the reactions range from silence to legal propaganda.
How do the most important jurists around the world see what our lawyers have hidden from view? Is there no unequivocal, universal law on the matter? Does Israel have its own standard? Can everything be legitimized? Can international law be twisted and distorted, covered up with a Band-Aid to the point where mass killing and destruction are given a stamp of justification by our leading light towers of justice? One can expect that of the brainwashed officers and soldiers, the media and public opinion, all of them who believe everything is permitted. But where for goodness sake are the defenders of the law?
We are left with a defense minister and a chief military rabbi who will hand down verdicts. Ehud Barak is calling for the liquidation of terrorists while they are in the bathroom, the chief military rabbinate is calling on soldiers to behave with cruelty. And the jurists? Don’t disturb them during their moment of rest. They are now busy processing membership payments for the Israel Bar.