Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 15 December 2006

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In my dotage, I have come to realize that there are people who don’t seem to mind entertaining contradictory ideas at the same time. A lot of people. Most people. Not you of course. I still don’t understand how they learned this cognitive feat, or why they’d want to. It would embarrass me if I got caught talking out both sides of my mouth.

I first noticed this when I heard people denouncing terrorism, blowing up innocent civilians in cafes and such, and then saying Israel had a ‘right to exist’, as if the very existence of the Zionist state didn’t come about through exactly such tactics. I thought it was something to do with people just having special blinkers when it came to Israel. But eventually it dawned on me that the phenomenon is really much more widespread and general than that.

And now I read that the eminent former Israeli Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, has passed down his final ruling, which, according to Ha’aretz ‘is expected to serve as a legal precedent in international law and war crime law’. It’s a historic event, right? He’ll be remembered for this for a long time to come. You wouldn’t want to look foolish under those circumstances.

For starters, ‘The court ruled that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations has the characteristics of armed international conflict, and therefore is subject to international law.’ Now there are some who imagine that international law applies to how states treat the human beings over whom they exercise state power, particular those whose territory they have occupied by force and so forth. But clearly Justice Barak can see through such rubbish. And with his superior perception he can also discern that the war between the State of Israel, with the fourth biggest arsenal on the planet, including a now acknowledged nuclear weapons cache, a very respectable arms industry of its own, and billions of dollars a year in no strings attached US aid, and a few bands of Palestinians with slingshots and home made rockets ‘has the characteristics of armed international conflict’.

To his credit, he ‘rejected the state's argument that international law currently recognizes a third category comprising "unlawful combatants."’ Which I think says a lot about the state of ‘justice’ in the US.

But ‘the court ruled that civilians involved in terror activities are not afforded the same protections granted to innocent civilians under international law.’ And fair enough, too.

The court also ruled that, since a targeted killing is essentially an attack on a civilian that is engaged in hostile activities, the attack is only justified if carried out against a civilian currently involved in terrorism. Therefore the IDF cannot target former terror operatives who have distanced themselves from terror activity. [my emphasis]

As I read this, what the judge means by currently is ‘nowadays’, rather than ‘at the moment’. Presumably, former terror operatives who have not distanced themselves from terror activity are fair game. It’s not necessary that a target actually be engaged in combat, or a ‘terror’ act at the time.

A ‘targetted killing’, or ‘extrajudicial execution’, as we call it in English, is ‘justified’ if four criteria are met,

First, "well based, strong and convincing information" regarding the individual's terrorist activities.

Second, "a civilian taking a direct part in hostilities cannot be attacked if a less harmful means can be employed."

Third, an independent, thorough investigation must be conducted after the attack to determine "the precision of the identification of the target and the circumstances of the [targeted killing]."

Fourth, every effort must be made to minimize harm to innocent civilians, and "harm to innocent civilians caused during military attacks (collateral damage) must be proportional."

So, for example, it would be ok to launch a missile at a known Islamic Jihad member having lunch in a Gaza restaurant when there is reliable intelligence that they fired a rocket that morning and were expected to do so again the next day. Obviously, a less harmful means cannot be employed. It would be way too dangerous and difficult to apprehend the suspect, gather evidence against them and prove to a jury that they were guilty as charged. Israeli authorities couldn’t do that anyway; Palestine is a foreign country, right?

Now, imagine an Israeli soldier, in uniform, enjoying lunch in a restaurant in Tel Aviv. By Justice Barak’s criteria, wouldn’t it be ok to ram a car bomb into that restaurant, assuming of course that you didn’t happen to have a precision guided missile on hand, and provided there was a thorough investigation after the fact? Wouldn’t we condemn that soldier for ‘hiding among civilians’?

According to YNet,

The Public Committee against Torture in Israel, which petitioned to the High Court to cancel the targeted killing policy was disappointed that the verdict did not set clear guidelines on how the policy should be used.

which I find decidedly implausible. I certainly hope that the Public Committee was disappointed that five years after lodging their petition on the matter the verdict did not ban extrajudicial murder outright.

Anyway, like I say, I don’t know how they manage it, but I’m confident that Justice Barak will enjoy a serene retirement with a clear conscience.

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