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(photo credit: AP)
Israel did not violate international law in the bombing of a building in Kafr Kana on July 30, 2006, in which 27 people were killed because on the basis of the information it had prior to the attack, it genuinely did not know there were many civilians in the area, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz told the Winograd Committee, according to testimony released on Tuesday.
"The test is that if the decision was made in good faith, on the basis of certain information, and it turns out that there was a mistake [in the information], and in this sense, to the best of my knowledge, the operation in Kafr Kana [fits that description and therefore] clearly meets the rules of international law," said Mazuz. "Whoever approved it, the information that he had, as far as I know, was such that it clearly met the rules of international law. Afterwards, it turned out there was something he did not know. It does not change the a priori normative picture."
In general, added Mazuz, if one measured the heavy Israeli bombing that followed the kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers on the Israeli-Lebanon border on July 12, 2006, and the killing of eight other soldiers, it could be said that the Israeli response was disproportionate. But, he continued, that is not the right way to look at it. Israel's position is not to look only at the Hizbullah attack that day, but at the overall context of Hizbullah activities against Israel.
"In this broader context," said Mazuz, "the Israeli operations were not disproportionate."
Mazuz was asked whether he believed the cabinet had made its decisions in an organized manner, as someone who had attended many of the cabinet meetings, including those of the full cabinet, the inner cabinet and the cabinet of seven ministers.
"My overall impression," he replied, "was that there was an effort to conduct an orderly decision-making process. There were many meetings relative to the non-dramatic scope of operations; after all, it was not a full-scale war. There were many meetings [and] my impression was that they were open, that is, everyone had an opportunity to express their opinion and there were sometimes disagreements among the professional echelons. On the other hand, it was clear that the discussions in the government were the end of the process, not the process itself."
Mazuz explained that most of the ministers did not possess a great deal of information during the meetings. The army refused to brief the full cabinet because it was certain the information would be leaked.
Mazuz was also asked about what the government was doing to protect Israeli officers from being tried in foreign countries according to the principle of universal jurisdiction.
He said one way to achieve this was by making officers aware of the fact that they could be held personally responsible for their actions. Another approach was to try to head off foreign legal action against Israelis by investigating the allegations at home.
But he added that these two measures are not enough to offset the lack of balance among certain countries eager to prosecute foreigners according to the principle of international jurisdiction, and Israel was keeping its eye on the problem.