Top lawyers debate: Will Turkel Report be implemented?

Human rights attorney Michale Sfard: Israel’s probes are a ‘soulless scarecrow,’ indicting 2.5% of 1,939 complaints against IDF.

June 26, 2013 01:29
3 minute read.
The Turkel commission at work.

Turkel commission 370. (photo credit: Courtesy - GPO)

Human rights lawyer Michael Sfard and Justice Ministry Special International Affairs Department head Roy Schondorf, in a rare public appearance, on Tuesday had a spirited debate over whether the Turkel Commission’s Second Report recommendations on Israel’s investigative apparatus will be implemented.

The commission was established to investigate war crimes allegations relating to the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, but was later asked to also check if Israel’s apparatus for investigating itself met international law standards.

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The two leading legal minds, speaking at a conference at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono, also butted heads on whether Israel’s investigative apparatus meets international law standards.

Sfard opened his remarks by accusing Israel of having an investigative apparatus that is a “soulless scarecrow,” in which indictments were only filed in 2.5 percent of 1,939 complaints submitted to the IDF in recent years.

The army does “no investigating, no prosecutions and no law enforcement,” he said. Rather, the entire IDF investigative apparatus is a “skeleton of procedures aimed at one thing: to say that we do have investigations,” he said.

Sfard said that while he agreed with the Turkel Report II’s recommendations and critiques of Israel, the “recommendations have not been adopted, will never be implemented and if they are implemented, they will not be implemented properly.”

Schoyndorf rebutted Sfard’s criticisms, saying the report declared Israel’s investigative apparatus in compliance with international law.

He added that statistics distort the picture when it comes to war crimes allegations and the state would be very disturbed if 2% of its soldiers were actually committing war crimes.

Sfard said that even though the report gave that as a conclusion, that the 18 recommendations and criticisms undermined that conclusion.

Schoyndorf responded that this mischaracterized the recommendations, which were focused on upgrading Israel to meet the “best practices” of other states. In other words, he said the criticisms were highlighting room for improvement, not violations of international law.

The Justice Ministry official also disagreed with Sfard on implementation, citing examples of recommendations already implemented, and the faster speed with which the IDF published a report regarding its investigations into war crimes allegations from Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012) as opposed to how long it had taken to publish a report regarding Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009).

Schoyndorf also said that the Justice Ministry had just appointed a new department head, with no prior connection to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), to independently investigate complaints against the Shin Bet, as recommended by the report (rather than having the agency perform its own internal investigations).

A government source implied that the Turkel Report II recommendations would be more fully adopted within six months.

Sfard pushed back and said other recommendations, such as having the Shin Bet videotape interrogations, would never be implemented.

Schoyndorf also spent significant time discussing the value of the Turkel Report II to the international community as a whole.

According to Schoyndorf, the report was unique and addressed issues of what international law standards should be for investigating war crimes allegations in greater detail than had ever previously been done.

He suggested that many other Western militaries, such as possibly Britain’s, currently dealing with war crimes allegations relating to its forces’ actions in Iraq, might learn a lot and improve their own investigations by using the report.

He complimented Israel’s political echelon on “having the courage and confidence” to open the state’s institutions to an outside critique with international observers, such as the Turkel Commission.

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