Goldstone in Gaza 58 ap.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The government is often accused of conducting a policy of “extinguishing fires” – that is, of careening from one emergency to another without managing to establish a systematic and well-thought-out program.
But in some cases, including very important ones, it seems that its policy is to do no more than dampen fires, without bothering to go to the trouble of extinguishing them altogether, even though one day in the distant – or not so distant – future, the flames may start up again.
Two cases in point are the government’s handling of the Goldstone Report and the international demands that Israel conduct an independent investigation of its war-crimes allegations; and the government-appointed independent investigation committee into the 2002 targeted assassination of Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, in which 14 others, most of them civilians, were killed by a 1-ton bomb dropped in the heart of the city.
In the latter case, the government appointed a committee headed by former military advocate-general and chief Knesset attorney Zvi Inbar to investigate the affair. It did so in the wake of a recommendation by the High Court of Justice, which ruled that the government should consider retroactively investigating targeted assassinations in which civilians were inadvertently killed.
The committee was set up in February 2008, but its establishment did not satisfy Yoav Hass, a leader of the left-wing Yesh Gvul organization. Hass and others lodged a complaint in Spain, which has legal provisions for universal jurisdiction, against seven military and political leaders, including former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, on charges of crimes against humanity.
A Spanish judge ordered an investigation of the complaint, which triggered an angry uproar in Israel. However, the government was able to persuade the Spanish court that Israel was already investigating the assassination, and Spain ordered the file closed. It was convinced that the Inbar Committee investigation satisfied the requirement that universal jurisdiction should not be applied in cases where the suspects’ government conducted its own genuine and impartial investigation.
However, the government investigation has never been completed. Inbar died in 2009, and though the Prime Minister’s Office informed The Jerusalem Post late Thursday night that Netanyahu had recently appointed Tovah Strassberg-Cohen to head the committee, the investigation has been frozen so far.
But what does that matter to the government, now that the Spanish threat is apparently over? It should be pointed out that an appeal is pending in Spain against the decision to close the file on Ya’alon, Ben-Eliezer and the others. How will Israel persuade the Spanish court now that it is conducting a genuine investigation, when it has done nothing for the past half-year?
This same approach appears to characterize the government’s handling of the Goldstone Report. Up until a week ago, the media was full of leaks from government officials about what kind of committee would be appointed to investigate some or all of the allegations included in the report. It would (or would not) be allowed to summon soldiers to testify, it would (or would not) be headed by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. It would (or would not) only examine the military investigations to determine whether they were carried out satisfactorily.
It was no secret that many, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, opposed any external investigation. But it appeared that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would overrule them.
The flurry of discussions and speculation over what kind of external examination Israel would conduct all focused on D-day, February 6, the date UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due to report to the UN General Assembly on the measures Israel and Hamas had taken to investigate the Goldstone allegations.
As the day approached, Israel submitted a 46-page report to Ban, explaining in detail the system that the IDF uses to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by its soldiers and providing details on four incidents that had been discussed in the Goldstone Report. The report said nothing about external investigations, even though this was what Judge Richard Goldstone and the UN had demanded.
But virtually nothing happened at the General Assembly meeting. Instead of expressing his opinion on the measures Israel and Hamas had taken to implement the Goldstone recommendations, Ban simply handed over their reports to the member states. The meeting ended without any criticism being leveled or steps taken.
The government heaved a huge sigh of relief and promptly forgot all
about appointing any kind of external investigative committee. Why do
so, after having passed the February 6 hurdle without injury?
trouble is that the respite is temporary. The Goldstone Report has not
evaporated into thin air. The countries that demanded external
investigations have not withdrawn their demands. After February 6 comes
February 7. The fire may have been dampened, but it has not been
extinguished. It could, and very likely will, erupt again.