Hagai El-Ad Headshot

From Ni'ilin to Chernobyl and Back, in Under a Week

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July 1: Not A Marginal Difference
An IDF officer allegedly orders one of his soldiers to shoot a bound, blind-folded Palestinian detainee at close range. The soldier then fires a rubber bullet at point-blank range at Mr. Ashraf Abu Rahma. The incident is caught on-camera by a B'Tselem video, taken by a 17-year-old girl from the village of Ni'ilin. The IDF investigates and finds that allegedly it was just a misunderstanding: the officer simply wanted to intimidate Mr. Abu Rahma to think that he is about to be shot. The command he gave to his soldier was only meant to be heard by Mr. Abu Rahma, not for the soldier to act upon. Both officer and soldier are charged by the IDF's Judge Advocate General with "unbecoming conduct," a lightweight offense which does not even appear on criminal records.

Mr. Abu Rahma, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and others appeal to the High Court of Justice (HCJ). Almost a year passes since the July 7, 2008 shooting. In a landmark decision, the HCJ finally intervenes:

"We are not talking about a marginal difference between a harsh charge and one that is somewhat less harsh, but about a large and wide gap between a possible criminal charge that expresses the true gravity of the act, and a criminal charge that is regarded by the legislature as the lightest of crimes in the military penal code."

After such a victory for the rule of law, one cannot but wonder: if even when such brutality is documented and thus witnessed by thousands in Israel and around the world, it still requires an appeal by human rights groups and the intervention of the supreme court in order to start closing the not-so-marginal gap between "unbecoming conduct" and "the true gravity of the act," what real, non-marginal, hope is left for justice or accountability in the occupied territories?

June 30: Worse Than Chernobyl?
The initiative to make Israel the first democracy in the world to establish, by law, a national, all-encompassing, biometric database of all its citizens, is once again making headway in parliament. The hearing on June 30 included colorful commentary by government minister Michael Eytan, describing potential leakage (read: foreseeable, inevitable, leakage) of the database as being "worse than Chernobyl." Well, nuclear radiation does indeed decay over many centuries - while one's biometrics are with us for life. Attorney Avner Pinchuk, the head of ACRI's right to privacy program, described the database as dramatically changing the democratic balance between state and citizen.

Nuclear waste aside, even Israel's security service has announced that the database isn't necessary. With Israel's "Big Brother Law" (aka the Communications Data Law) currently under a constitutional challenge in the High Court of Justice, it is difficult to comprehend how the state is still pursuing this Mega-Big Brother Law.

June 29: Democracy, Not Once
"If the words attributed to the president of France are correct, the interference of a president of a respected democratic state in the matters of another democratic state is a grave and intolerable thing," thus responded the office of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to comments attributed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Gotta love it, how Lieberman's office managed to get the word "democratic" -- not once, but twice! -- into this short, pointed response that they have issued. Perhaps they would now want to consider upgrading their anti-democratic campaign slogan "No loyalty - No citizenship" into something much simpler, again using "democracy" not once, but twice: "No democracy - No democracy." Simple. The rest is commentary.

June 28: Investigate The Messenger
The UN Goldstone Committee is currently investigating allegations of violations of the laws of war, by both Israel and Hamas, during operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Israel's Attorney General (A-G) has refused to order an Israeli, independent inquiry, withstanding such calls from Israeli human rights groups. While continuing to call for such an investigation by Israel, the Israeli human rights groups have submitted a report to the Goldstone Committee, concluding that:

"conducting an impartial investigation is essential for the protection of human rights and for extending maximal protection to civilians in wartime."

The result so far? Mr. Gershon Masika, Head of the Shomron Regional Council (a settlers' council in the occupied West Bank), has also called on the A-G to open an investigation. No, not vis-a-vis Cast Lead, but looking into how the human rights groups are "endangering state security" and calling for the A-G to put an end to these "subversive actions."

Mr. Masika's letter to the A-G perhaps should have gone unnoticed, if it wasn't part of a broader current trend, of not looking into the actual issues, but rather focusing on "how bad things may look" and accusing those exposing the wrongdoings. Likewise, an investigation had actually been instigated recently against the Indymedia Israel website, which published a picture of a soldier they suspect recently shot a Palestinian demonstrator in Bil'in; Indymedia Israel is now under criminal investigation for, allegedly, insulting a public official.

By the way, the demonstrator was, allegedly, hit from 30 meters, in his chest, by a teargas grenade. He died. To the best of my knowledge, no criminal investigation is yet underway with regard to the killing of the demonstrator.