Many in the media say that what Anat Kamm uncovered was an important revelation. The IDF, they claim, violated High Court of Justice orders, and conducted targeted killings while violating judicial guidelines. The IDF, they continue to assert, committed war crimes, and there is no journalist out there who would have remained silent, were he or she to receive documented proof of this.

Let us put aside the thousands of documents that have nothing to do with the leaks she gave to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau and which contain military information with no journalistic value. And let us put aside the fact that the IDF was forced to alter its military plans due to the stolen information. And the fact that the possession of such material constitutes a criminal offense, which an Israeli paper is aiding.

Let us deal with the heart of the matter this time.
Were the documents revealed and brought before the public indeed proof that the IDF violated judicial orders? The headline, at the time, was “The chief-of-staff and IDF leadership authorized killings of wanted and innocent men.” The word “innocent” appears almost 20 times in the article in which the documents were published. The impression is that the IDF has been committing war crimes, an impression Haaretz intentionally attempted to create.

We should rise to the challenge, and examine what these documents show exactly.

The main argument was regarding the High Court of Justice and the legality of targeted killings. It was no other than former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak who made the determination in 2006: that it is impossible to determine a priori that all targeted killings are forbidden by international law, just as it is impossible to determine a priori that all targeted killings are permissible according to international law. This is a very clear statement that is somewhat at odds with the impression received when reading Haaretz back in 2008, when the documents appeared in Blau’s article, and certainly today, as the paper attempts to hide behind the guise of exposing the truth.

The documents, it should be noted, deal with the need either to arrest or target an Islamic Jihad cell – clearly terrorists, who have committed acts of murder and planned more attacks. They consistently roamed the land with rifles and bomb belts. Any army of a democratic nation would regard their assassination as something both legitimate and desirable. This would not involve any troubles of conscience. According to Haaretz, however, it was more appropriate to arrest these righteous cell members than harm them.

THE DOCUMENTS indicate that the IDF rigorously abided by the ruling. They reveal four matters.

First, that OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh ordered an arrest rather than an assassination. Only if these turned out to be the Islamic Jihad members that, as stated earlier, were walking around with bomb belts and rifles, and only if events developed into a situation that both necessitates and allows this, should they be killed.

Second, it appears that the implementing force received an additional order: if there are women or children in the area, assassination must be avoided. Here then, argues the sanctimonious Haaretz, is the proof that there was an alternative to assassination and that arrests were possible. Nonsense. This proves one thing only: that when there are innocent civilians on the premises, particularly women and children, IDF troops take on themselves a far greater risk.

Third, it shows that the IDF places restrictions on the implementing force, in all things concerning the possible harming of innocent civilians. In the course of the meeting conducted by Naveh it was decided that only if there were as few as two unidentified men in addition to those that are wanted, could the operation take place.

In a second meeting, this time under Gen. Tal Russo, it was decided to restrict this further and allow only one innocent individual to be accidentally struck. The matter reached the chief-of-staff, and there too, Ashkenazi ordered that the operation against the arch-terrorists from Islamic Jihad take place only “if there is no more than a single unidentified individual” on the scene. Not even two.

In other words, if there are women and children, the operation is off. And if there are two unidentified figures, the operation is off. And it should be stressed that there was certainly no order to take out the unidentified figure. Does this violate the High Court of Justice’s rulings? Let us examine. In the ruling, Barak states that “collateral damage in which innocent women and children are harmed shall be legal only if it abides by proportional standards.”

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that we are talking about the accidental killing of two innocent civilians, compared to the striking down of five murderers belonging to a terrorist cell. Is this proportional? The man who was in charge of targeted killings in the Pentagon, Marc Garlasco, a former defense intelligence analyst at the Pentagon – yes, he of the Nazi memorabilia fiasco in 2009 – was interviewed on 60 Minutes, where he told interviewers that when it came to the assassination of a senior Iraqi terrorist, the guidelines were to kill as many as 29 innocent individuals, in order to take the man out. For them the US, it is one to 29 innocent men, and in Israel, permission is only given if there is one unidentified figure on the scene. And no, there is no order take him or them out. There is a huge gulf between Israel and the United States. Garlasco, incidentally, is responsible for the killing of some 200 innocent civilians, as part of pursuits of wanted terrorists – all while no terrorist was actually struck. No international arrest warrant was issued against Garlasco. On the contrary, he later became a senior member of Human Rights Watch. These are the ratios. This is the proportionality. Haaretz has failed to explain what it regards as proportional. Nor will it ever explain.

FOURTHLY, IT appears that in order to authorize any operation against Islamic Jihad members, many deliberations across different echelons take place. In these deliberations it was determined that innocent civilians shall not be harmed. That arrests are preferred over assassination. That women and children must be protected. That proportionality must be rigorously defended.

And these were not merely debates, the OC Central Commander himself could not approve the operation, and the authorization of the chief-of-staff was required. Can this complex process, of wavering, of debate after debate, of orders to safeguard the lives of women, children and innocent civilians, of clear definition of proportionality, be called a war crime, or murder?

In the course of the mission discussed by the Haaretz article, two terrorists were killed, Ziad Tzubahi Mahmad Malaisha and Ibrahim Ahmad Abed-El Latif A’abad. The two, not only according to the IDF but also according to a statement published by Islamic Jihad, were killed as they attempted to resist arrest, and while they were armed with M-16s in the throes of a battle with IDF troops. Islamic Jihad regards them as fallen troops. Haaretz created the impression that they were victims of war crimes.

In the very same article, the newspaper presents at length the views of three legal experts, Motta Kremnizer, David Kremnizer, and Moshe Hanegbi. They conclude, each in his own way, that the the troops on the mission has violated IDF orders, and that their actions constituted war crimes.

Based on what? What evidence do they present? Any search would be in vain. Haaretz turned to three legal experts whose opinions it knew in advance. The aim was to implicate the IDF. The legal experts brought home the bacon.

But, there was one other opinion. Following the report, two attorneys, Michael Shepherd and Avigdor Feldman, approached the attorney general and demanded that the matter be investigated. The attorney general at the time, Menahem Mazuz wrote in a reply: “the military sources in the IDF General Staff received constant legal council, were aware of High Court of Justice guidelines, stressed and executed this in every state of planning and approval of the mission.”

Haaretz would not allow itself to be
distracted by the facts. After all, legal advice is not an exact science. Therefore, the paper chose to approach legal experts who would recite exactly what it wanted to hear.

One could, of course, add that the number of targeted killings in recent years stands at approximately zero. There were targeted killings during the second Intifada but following the 2006 High Court ruling, the number of assassinations did indeed decline, and the number of innocent civilians killed in the process fell to zero.

And now, in order to justify the view it has long held, Haaretz attempts to create the opposite impression, one of mass targeted killings and harming of innocent civilians, contrary to the High Court’s ruling.

Anyone reading the paper gets the impression that the IDF is deeply engaged in the criminal act of assassination when nothing could be further from the truth.

The demonizing, and delegitimizing of Israel got some help these past days thanks to Haaretz.

The paper has the right to hold its views and run any story it pleases. However, this recent affair should be called by its name: a libel manufactured by Haaretz.

The writer is a regular columnist at Maariv.

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