Turkel II could bring change

Official: report is a road map for addressing questions that until now were not truly defined by either Israeli or international law.

Turkel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Turkel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
This report is not likely to fall into the dustbin of history as many others have.
One reason is that overall, top current and former legal officials in the government and the IDF are satisfied with the results of the Turkel II report and recommendations.
The officials spoke under condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely and due to the high level of sensitivity of the issues.
The officials said that the key item was the overall conclusion that Israel could investigate itself, and mostly did a solid job.
They said that this was a crucial message because of the “prominence of the legal experts” involved in drafting Turkel II, including “top Israeli experts as well as top international experts, such as a former top official from the International Criminal Court,” and the fact that the commission reviewed many “actual” controversial IDF cases, “not just theoretical issues.”
One official added that the report is a road map for addressing questions that until now were not truly defined by either Israeli or international law.
In terms of the recommendations for changes, of which there are 19, he said that “every system, even a good one, can get better. I praise the report’s ideas. It is good for us to get even better.” He also noted that the report would likely have a “positive impact on efforts to defend Israelis from prosecution in foreign countries.”
At the very least a “byproduct” of the report will be to “undermine the argument against our legal system, because it says our system is valid,” concurring with a prior finding by the Spanish courts a couple of years ago.
Multiple officials noted that the report would also help foreign countries’ militaries that have been closely following the proceedings, as no country’s legal apparatus for investigating war crimes violations has ever been so thoroughly investigated.
Regarding the recommendation that implicitly criticized the IDF’s operational investigations, the official said that the message was not that the IDF needed to “get rid of them,” but rather that they are just “not the best” alternative for investigating war crimes allegations.
Another official said that “the military advocate-general never said that the purpose of operation investigations was to decide” the issue of opening a criminal investigation, and that their use as one source of information for that decision was “not holy.”
Not all recommendations were received with praise. On the report’s recommendation to set a fixed amount of time, one official said that “setting a standard amount of time could be problematic” because some cases may be “simple and easily decided,” while others may be far “too complicated” to meet a generic standard.
Still the official recognized that some cases “must be decided faster.”
One official criticized the recommendation to set the military advocate-general’s term for six years, saying that was “too long” and that “maybe 3-4 years” would be more appropriate.
On the other hand, the official thought the report was too timid regarding the military advocate general’s rank, where it merely suggested having a set rank, stating that the military advocate general “must have the rank of major-general” to obtain the proper respect of top IDF commanders.
Regarding the recommendation to establish a new advisory body on war crimes allegations in the State Attorney’s Office, some officials voiced skepticism, saying it might just create a new “layer of bureaucracy” and it was “hard to see if this will help” as there are “already people who know international law” in the office.
In terms of the recommendation to transfer investigations of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to the State Attorney’s Office, an official said that this process “was started long ago and is almost finished,” adding that there has even already been an application process for “the new person to head it.”
Based on the reactions, it is likely that some, but not all, of the report’s recommendations for improvements will be adopted.
Which of the recommendations will get adopted and which will be blocked may involve intergovernmental debates and personal differences between some of the major government and IDF players as much as it will policy perspectives.
But the mostly positive reactions and a belief that adopting the report’s recommendations is a lesser evil than facing cases before the ICC signal that the report is likely to help generate some significant changes.