The Lights Have Been Turned Off

By Gideon Levy
Source: Haaretz

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One after another, the final lights are being turned off, and a moral gloom is falling upon us as we stand at the edge of an abyss. Just last week, three more lights were turned off. The Winograd Report did not come out clearly against the fact that Israel embarked on a pointless war; the Supreme Court authorized collective punishment and the attorney general concluded that the killing of 12 Israeli citizens and someone from the territories by the police does not warrant a trial. The final keepers of order, the lighthouses of justice and law, are reconciling themselves with the most serious injustices of the institutions of authority and no one so much as utters a word about it. The upsetting and depressing crop of a single week has drawn the moral portrait of the country.

As expected, the Winograd Committee became irrelevant. It avoided dealing with the first question that should have been on its agenda: Was there any justification for embarking on the war? A committee that says nothing about a country that declares war on its neighbor, kills a thousand of its citizens, causes mass destruction, makes use of horrific munitions and continues to kill dozens of innocents to this day — is a derelict committee.

If the committee didn’t delve into these key issues, then who will? A single, circuitous remark exposed the game: “We do not conclude, and have not concluded, that the decision to embark on war following the abduction [of the two reservists] was not justified.” Well, what did it conclude? Despite what it said, this is what you really hear: It is legitimate in the eyes of the committee to go to war over two abducted soldiers. It is legitimate to utilize the tool of war, to kill indiscriminately, to disproportionately bomb and destroy — all as the preferred first response. No negotiations, no limited military operation — just war — and on such dubious grounds, and of course with such pathetic results. Not a word on the killing and the destruction that we caused in vain. The dignified-looking committee conducted itself like a public information office and supported what many around the world have described as war crimes. A golden opportunity to say something ethical about the language of force that we are always eager to use, was missed. The Winograd Committee is therefore a panel lacking a moral backbone, which avoided coming to terms with substantive questions.

On the same day that the committee released its final report, the Supreme Court, that same institution to which all eyes are turned, and over whose influence there is a bitter, ongoing battle, authorized another bug in the works. A panel of justices headed by Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that Israel is authorized to limit the supply of electricity, gasoline and diesel to the Gaza Strip, “since even these diminished quantities sufficiently meet humanitarian needs.”

It is difficult to tell what “humanitarian needs” are according to Beinisch, but in the Gaza Strip a million and a half people are crying out for fuel, water and electricity. It is fair to ask the court president: Has she ever been exposed to the scenes of wretchedness in the Gaza Strip? Did she ever see the miserable people there carrying fuel jerry cans from Egypt? Has she considered the cold, which cannot be countered without electricity or fuel? Has she given any serious thought to what happens to children, the infirm and the elderly without these necessities? They are all innocents.

But the severity of the Supreme Court’s decision is not only on the human level: The Supreme Court is authorizing collective punishment, which is specifically forbidden under international law (Article 33 of the Geneva Convention). Henceforth, Israel will no longer be able to complain about attacks against innocents in Israel: If all the residents of the Gaza Strip deserve to be punished because of the Qassam rockets, then maybe all Israelis deserve to be punished because of the occupation?

“This is the difference between Israel, a democracy fighting for its life within the framework of the law, and the terrorist organizations fighting against it,” the Supreme Court stated sanctimoniously, like a lowly spokesman from the Foreign Ministry.

“According to the law?” Which law? Not international law. “Israel is fighting for its life?” And maybe the Palestinians are fighting a war that is no less justified, against occupation and imprisonment? All this was not on the Supreme Court’s agenda.

And last, but not least: Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Twelve citizens and a resident of the territories were killed by the police, and Mazuz ruled there was no point of initiating a criminal investigation at such a late stage. (The state prosecution decided at the time to delay the investigation until the Or Commission of Inquiry completed its work.) Why shouldn’t the court decide? All the excuses, including passing the blame onto the victim’s families, who did not permit autopsies, do not in the least diminish the well-founded suspicion: Had the dead been Jewish citizens, this would not have happened; the police would not have killed and the attorney general would not have closed the case.

After all this, people here complain about those who wish to live in a more just country, who are forced to turn to institutions of international law. Who else can they turn to? The Supreme Court? Winograd? The attorney general? Their lights have all been turned off.

Published in Haaretz, Feb. 4, 2008.

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