Human shields and ‘Goldstone scapegoats’

The attempt to propagandize the incident in which two soldiers reportedly used a Palestinian youth as a human shield during Cast Lead is contemptible.

Soldiers in Court 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Soldiers in Court 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The Israeli public was recently subjected to an ill-advised and unfortunate publicity stunt during the court-martial of two members of one of the IDF’s main combat units, who were tried for violating military rules and the norms of humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead by using a Palestinian youngster as a human shield, forcing him to open a bag they suspected held explosives.
While there is certainly nothing inherently wrong in expressing support for comrades-in-arms in accompanying them to the courthouse, the manner in which friends of these soldiers chose to publicize their position was particularly objectionable, in that they chose to wear T-shirts declaring their friends to be “Goldstone scapegoats.”
This equation is both ill-advised and in particularly bad taste for a number of reasons. The soldiers had been convicted of committing crimes that violate both the IDF’s own code of combat and the most basic norms of humanitarian law – taking children and using them as human shields. Neither the IDF rules for combat nor the norms of humanitarian law were invented by Richard Goldstone, in his report, and these norms and rules have existed and been applied in the IDF for many years.
In fact, the IDF expends considerable efforts toward inculcating humanitarian standards within the various military units, and this writer spent considerable reserve-duty time teaching all levels of the army about humanitarian norms, Geneva conventions, laws of war and the like.
One may certainly view the Goldstone commission as having been “born in sin,” with its one-sided anti- Israel mandate approved by the UN Human Rights Council, and the resultant Goldstone Report as being politically motivated and drafted in a heavily biased manner. But the crimes for which the soldiers were put on trial, and the legal process within the IDF are a standard internal process, which Israel and its military are committed to go through in the event that evidence presents itself as to the violation by soldiers or officers of the rules of combat.
ISRAEL IS a country that prides itself on its justice system – both civilian and military. In our hasbara and other messages, we claim that fighting terrorists is not classical combat according to the rules of warfare between organized armies, because they, as terrorists, violate the rules, hide behind civilians, targeting our civilians and so on. Thus we are fighting illegal combatants.
Some soldiers and officers see this as a reason to “bend” the humanitarian rules and act outside the confines of the Geneva conventions. This is a problem, since international law has not really caught up with modern day terror and there are no international conventions that handle thse issues yet. The expectation of us is that as an organized army we will abide by the rules, even if our enemy doesn’t.
People are not put on “show trials” to satisfy this or that organization or personality.
If the IDF prosecutors consider, on the basis of evidence before them, that grounds exist for bringing soldiers or officers to trial for violation of the laws and norms of warfare and violation of the IDF combat rules, then this is based purely on the evidence.
While there have been recent photographs and videos of soldiers posing (and dancing) next to Palestinian detainees, this regrettable behavior would appear to be highly untypical of Israeli soldiers in general, and is most probably based on individual “copying” of actions by US or British soldiers seen on TV or on the Web.
But, in any event, the soldiers convicted of using a youngster as a human shield are certainly not “Goldstone scapegoats.”
If, on the basis of the evidence before it, the court convicted them, they are criminals who, as IDF soldiers, should have known better. The attempt to propagandize this regrettable situation, as if the process is not genuine but some kind of staged performance to humor Goldstone, is transparent, uncalled for and contemptible, and will hopefully be rapidly forgotten.
The writer is a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada. During his military service, he served as the military prosecutor in the Gaza Strip. Today he is a partner in the law firm of Moshe, Bloomfield, Baker and Kobo.