A statement by Gush Shalom published in Haaretz, August 9,
The whole truth about Gush
Shalom activities against war crimes
Warning against war crimes is an act of
Gush Shalom’s purpose is to warn officers and
soldiers alike that certain actions could lead, at some future dare, to
their indictment before an Israeli - and even an international - court of
This is clearly a patriotic act intended to
defend the honor and protect the reputation of Israel.
The Fourth Geneva Convention requires its
signatories, among them Israel, to bring violators to trial in a court of
law or to extradite them to other countries for this purpose.
Gush Shalom has succeeded in generating a
public discussion on war crimes in Israel and warning officers and soldiers
in time of the possible consequence of certain actions, according to the
biblical command: “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor“.
The claim that this was done in secrecy is
In January of this year Gush Shalom organized a
large convention in Tel Aviv to prompt public debate on this topic. Although
professors and senior (retired) army officers attended and addressed the
convention, it was ignored by all the important media.
The main purpose of our campaign is not to
prosecute, but rather to prevent illegal actions from occurring, by warning
those who might commit them that the laws on war crimes are not subject to
the statute of limitations and perpetrators can be brought to trial
Gush Shalom cautions soldiers that if they
commit war crimes they might not be able to travel outside the borders of
the country for fear of being indicted and arrested.
In its attempt to raise the awareness of
officers and soldiers of the IDF, Gush Shalom produced a pocket guide for
the soldiers, which details the actions that constitute war crimes.
The guide includes a warning against participating in war crimes.
Moreover, Gush Shalom produced a radio
broadcast on the subject. The Broadcasting Authority refused to
release it even as a paid ad. The High Court of Justice refused to
compel the Israel Broadcasting Authority to do so.
The unrestrained attack on Gush Shalom,
initiated by Prime Minister Sharon, unwittingly contributed towards an
enhanced awareness of the problem of war crimes by all ranks of the IDF.
The defamation of Gush Shalom and the
incitement against it, which portrayed Gush Shalom activists as informers,
Kapo (Jewish camp police in Nazi concentration camps), Judenrat (Jewish
ghetto committees appointed by the Nazis), etc. was intended to draw
attention away from the failure of Sharon and Ben Eliezer to bring security
to the country and its citizens, by creating a new legend of “stabbing the
army in the back”. This legend is reminiscent of dark days and
The political and military leadership of Israel
implicitly admits that it is impossible to be an occupier of another nation
without committing war crimes and violating international laws.
The inescapable conclusion is that the
occupation must end.
The claim that the state-of-war and the need to
defend the citizens of Israel necessitate committing war crimes is
inadmissible and false. The very concept of “war crimes” means that
such crimes are specifically prohibited in times of war, when each side
believes that it is defending the lives of its citizens.
Gush Shalom calls upon soldiers to refuse to
obey orders that are manifestly illegal. This is also demanded by Israeli
Under Israeli law, a “manifestly illegal order”
is one over which the “black flag of illegality” waves - An order that every
normal person clearly recognizes as illegal.
Execution without trial (called “liquidation”),
the killing of defenseless wounded (called “verification of death”),
preventing medical help from reaching the injured, shooting at ambulances
and medical teams, allowing populations to starve, dropping bombs on
residential areas, wholesale destruction of houses, penalizing families for
the deeds of one of their members by expulsion and home demolition - these
are all examples of illegal orders.
Sadly, there is no truth to the assertion that
the IDF authorities themselves are investigating war crimes and violations
of Israeli and international laws and punishing the offenders. During
the present conflict, the media have reported on hundreds of actions carried
out in contravention of Israeli and international laws - but very rarely was
anyone brought to trial, and no one has been fittingly punished.
In addition to the dangers that lie ahead for
officers and soldiers who commit illegal actions and violate human rights,
these actions also damage peace and security, since they increase hatred and
provoke cruel retaliations. Such was the killing of Salah
Schada, which resulted in a wave of horrible acts of vengeance.
Over the past few months, Gush Shalom has sent
letters to several senior officers who were mentioned in the media in
connection with manifestly illegal actions. They were told that Gush
Shalom is gathering information about such actions.
This was done publicly, with copies of the
letters sent to all the media (which chose not to publish them) and to the
Chief Army Advocate (who has taken no action regarding these officers).
The primary purpose of the letters was to make
clear to the commanders the severity of such actions, in terms of Israeli
and international laws, and to persuade them to desist from these actions.
The officers were told that if they commit war
crimes and violate Israeli and international laws, we shall present the
information to the Israeli legal authorities, when and if these authorities
take their responsibilities seriously and enforce the law to prevent such
Amir Oren, a military commentator, reported
this week that the General Staff has made preparations for a “third
operation”, more extensive than the previous two, which will lead to “the
injury of thousands of Palestinians”. This report raises the suspicion that
the operation will involve serious war crimes that could lead to the
indictment of the planners and executors before the International Criminal
Court at The Hague.
There has been no Gush Shalom decision to
submit material to the international court, and the Gush maintains no
contact with this institution. However, if the Israeli courts do not
enforce the law, we might consider this option as a last resort.
Gush Shalom supports the International Criminal
Court established recently in The Hague and regards it a realization of
Jewish and world-wide aspirations. The Government of Israel’s refusal to
join this institution manifestly demonstrates its moral outlook and does a
great deal of damage to our international image.
As the international court, which is globally
endorsed, gains prominence, our military and political leaders may find
themselves indicted in The Hague on the basis of reports in the
international media and without any assistance from Gush Shalom.
Laws allowing trials of such people are now
being formulated in other countries, such as Belgium. This means that
international arrest warrants will be issued and will be effective in all of
Europe and in other countries.
The IDF has already recognized that its
soldiers might be brought to trial in The Hague and, therefore, is now
preventing the publication of the names of officers and soldiers involved in
certain operations. At the request of the IDF, Israeli TV has begun,
on occasion, to blur the faces of soldiers, as if they were juvenile
If some organization in Serbia had publicly
warned Milosevic and his generals against committing war crimes, all Israeli
newspapers and politicians (except Sharon) would have applauded it.
In order to prevent public debate on
the real conditions for peace and to maintain the Israeli public’s belief
that we are fighting an “unavoidable war”, Sharon is inciting against those
who are striving for peace and reconciliation between the two nations.