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A statement by Gush Shalom
Gush Shalom, Israel
August 9, 2002
The whole truth about Gush Shalom activities against war crimes
Warning against war crimes is an act of patriotism
1) Gush Shalom’s purpose is to warn officers and soldiers alike that certain actions could lead, at some future date, to their indictment before an Israeli—and even an international—court of law.
2) This is clearly a patriotic act intended to defend the honor and protect the reputation of Israel.
3) 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.
4) 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".
5) The claim that this was done in secrecy is completely false.
6) 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.
7) 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 anywhere, anytime.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) 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.
11) 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.
12) 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 sinister regimes.
13) 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.
14) The inescapable conclusion is that the occupation must end.
15) 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.
16) Gush Shalom calls upon soldiers to refuse to obey orders that are manifestly illegal. This is also demanded by Israeli law.
17) 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.
18) 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.
19) 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.
20) 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.
21) 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.
22) 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).
23) 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.
24) 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 actions.
25) 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.
26) 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.
27) 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.
28) 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.
29) 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.
30) 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 criminals.
31) 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.
32) 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 [Israel and Palestine].
Published in Ha’aretz, August 9, 2002.