This week, the list of
Palestinian passersby, including children, who passed over to the
next world during "incidents" in the territories, grew longer.
According to Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, the IDF takes cases of
innocent civilians being hurt very seriously. According to Judge
Advocat General Maj. Gen. Menachem Finkelstein, the IDF thoroughly
investigates any suspicions of death by negligence, let alone
deliberate attacks on civilians.
But if the military law
enforcement agencies were to open a file after every "unfortunate
incident of death," instead of looking for "wanted men," the
commanders in the field would be busy looking for lawyers. The IDF's
authorities have therefore ruled that it's up to field commanders to
decide which cases of death justify a Military Police investigation,
and which deaths of civilians are called an "unfortunate incident."
In addition, the state attorney will be brought into action whenever
outside agencies, like human rights groups or the press, draw the
army's attention to unusual incidents.
For some months, this
column has been tracking, alongside B'Tselem, two deaths in Nablus.
The military prosecution recently decided to order Military Police
investigations. The chain of events shows that if not for the
intervention of B'Tselem and the press, these two cases, like
hundreds of other "incidents," would have been buried along with the
Ahmed Abdul Rahman al Karini, a 54-year-old
municipal maintenance man, was shot to death on August 10, 2002 by
an IDF curfew patrol, while Karini was repairing the city electrical
grid. The chief military prosecutor, Col. Einat Ron, told B'Tselem
on September 10 that she decided not to put the Military Police on
She wrote, "The force's actions did not deviate
from the realm of reasonablenesss expected of a military force in
the area, under the conditions in which it was acting." The
prosecutor said the soldiers were tasked with enforcing the curfew
and "noticed a commercial van that approached and stopped suddenly
in a way that raised their suspicions." A few lines later in her
letter, she said the soldiers "fired in the air" since they believed
the van, which she said "stopped suspiciously," was "trying to evade
Col. Ron explained the mistaken identity of the
vehicle by noting that "it did not have a flashing orange light on
the roof." The experience of the last two years shows that the case
would have been closed, if not for an Associated Press videotape
that recorded the incident and which reached B'Tselem's hands. The
tape clearly shows a blinking orange light on the roof of Karini's
On November 17, 2002, B'Tselem gave the
tape to the JAG prosecutors. On January 29, 2003, four-and-a-half
months after JAG said it saw no reason for an inquiry, Col. Ron
wrote to B'Tselem that JAG decided to initiate a Military Police
The second incident also took place in Nablus. On
October 11, 2002, during a lengthy curfew in the city, there was a
burst of machine gun fire from a passing jeep near the home of the
Abu Hijla family in Raffadiyeh.
Shaden Abu Hijla, a women in
her 60s, well-known as a peace activist, was sitting in her garden,
embroidering. She was killed on the spot, while her husband, a
prominent doctor, and her son, a university teacher, were wounded.
Abu Hijla's death was widely reported in the press. Even
President George W. Bush was personally told of it. In its first,
unofficial version of the events, the army said the woman was killed
(and her husband and son were wounded) by a single stray bullet.
After the army learned that the family had found 14 empty shells
from an automatic weapon on the scene, Ya'alon ordered the case
reopened. This week, nearly five months after Abu Hijla's death, the
IDF Spokesman said the JAG has ordered a Military Police inquiry.
These two "unusual" stories indicate what can be assumed to
be the more usual routine for the hundreds of anonymous cases where
the circumstances of the deaths are not known to the human rights
groups or the press. This column will continue tracking the findings
of the Military Police inquiries and the steps taken (if any are) in
their wake against the guilty parties.
The dispute between the White House and the U.S.
State Department regarding the road map is becoming more and more
reminiscent of the worst days of the unity government. On one side
is Elliott Abrams, Bush's new National Security Council adviser on
Middle East affairs, who has deposed three top officials from his
department: Flint Levert, Ben Miller and Hillary Mann. All three are
ex-CIA, all three were professional appointments, and all three were
suspected of supporting the road map of the Quartet, a forum, it
should be remembered, that includes the U.S. Abrams is part and
parcel of the neo-conservative gang surrounding Bush, and was
appointed to make sure the road map is kosher.
At the same
time, Secretary of State Colin Powell promises anyone who asks -
including Ehud Barak, who dropped by recently - that the day after
the attack on Iraq, indeed that very morning, the Bush
administration will deliver the road map to Ariel Sharon.
Now, a respectable group of key players from former
administrations - both Democratic and Republican - have lined up
behind Powell. They've issued a document resulting from a New York
Council on Foreign Relations round table, urging the president to
immediately present an accelerated plan for the establishment of a
The task force, headed by Henry Siegman,
hints that American concessions to pressure from Israel to postpone
negotiations for peace has nothing to do with U.S. national security
interests. The group included Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national
security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; Lee Hamilton, a former
chairman of the House International Relations Committee; Frederic
Hof, former staff director of the Mitchell Committee; Geoffrey Kemp,
former National Security Council senior director for Middle East
Affairs; Robert Malley, former National Security Council director
for Middle East Affairs in the Clinton administration; Thomas
Pickering, former under secretary of state and ambassador to Israel;
Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to President
George Bush (Sr.), among others. Scowcroft and Brzezinski summed up
the document in a February 13 Wall Street Journal article.
In addition to the explicit use of the term "double
standard," the team states bluntly what it thinks about the gap
between the determination Bush is showing on one side of the Middle
East and his leniency with the other side.
and much of the Muslim world, as well as most European countries,
see a direct linkage between their ability to be more forthcoming in
supporting U.S. goals in Iraq and our seriousness in working for a
fair settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict," says the
document, adding, "We believe there is no national security reason
for the President to delay elaboration of his June 24 vision.
Indeed, there are important national security reasons to spell out
without further delay the broad shape of the peace agreement for
which the U.S. intends to work ... It would also facilitate
international cooperation with the U.S. in its war on global
terrorism and in its efforts to encourage the spread of democracy
throughout the world."
The team proposes Bush get off the
hobby horse of deposing Arafat. "We support President George W.
Bush's view that the Palestinian people deserve political leadership
and institutions not tainted by terrorism and corruption. However,
the resumption of a peace process between Israel and the
Palestinians should not be conditioned upon the replacement of a
"To do so invites resistance on the
part of large segments of the Palestinian population that desire
change in their leadership and accountable democratic governance,
but do not wish to be seen as doing a foreign country's bidding. It
also places the role of one man above the American interest in
bringing a speedy end to the violence."
Instead of dealing
with Arafat, say the round-table participants, it would be best to
encourage an end to terror and changes in Palestinian society,
through a peace process "that holds out a credible promise of viable
The new document also rejects the
one-sided condition imposed by the Bush-Sharon team, with regard to
an end to the terrorist attacks. It proposes, "the U.S.
administration and its Quartet partners must insist on a 100 percent
Palestinian Authority effort to end violence that is unconditional
and independent of actions demanded of Israel. The U.S. and its
Quartet partners must similarly insist on an equally unconditional
cessation of Israeli settlement expansion (including so-called
natural growth) that is independent of actions required of
Palestinians." The document says, "This parallelism is not to
suggest moral equivalence. It is to recognize that no peace talks
are possible if Palestinians fail to exert 100 percent effort to
halt Palestinian terrorism or if Israel continues through its
settlement policy to encroach on Palestinian lives and property."
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has been getting some
reports lately that Abrams, the senior pro-Israel official, won't be
able to remain a vegetarian much longer on the issue of the
settlements. But there's a long way to go from that, to imposing the
road map, before, during or after the Iraq war. And if the "window
of opportunity" opens after a military campaign in Iraq, the
political advisers running Bush's election campaign will make sure
it doesn't close on their boss's calloused fingers.