IDF Violates Israeli Supreme Court Constraints on Targeted Assassinations
NOTE: Yesterday, I published a post about an Israeli journalist secretly detained and placed under house arrest by the Shin Bet for allegedly leaking top-secret IDF memos detailing planned targeted assassinations against specific Palestinian militants. The memos made clear that the IDF was flouting a Supreme Court ruling which permitted such attacks, but only under a limited set of conditions.
I have changed the status of this post to private, thus removing it from public access out of respect for Israeli peace activists who inform me that the alleged leaker is negotiating with the authorities over a plea deal and that publication of the details of the case could jeopardize this process. I have grave concerns about whether I did the right thing, since it appears to me that silence only furthers the interests of the intelligence agencies prosecuting her and the IDF, which wishes the whole embarrassing episode would just go away.
To thwart this goal, I’d like here to review the original Haaretz story (English translation here–a cursory reading indicates to me the original is much more comprehensive and damning than the translation) which utilized the leaks about targeted assassinations. First, let’s go back to 2006 when the Israeli Supreme Court refused to outlaw this tactic, which Israeli human rights NGOs argued persuasively was a violation of international law. As a compromise, the Supreme Court said it would continue to allow such extrajudicial killings as long as they observed certain criteria. First, the victim had to be a ticking-bomb, that is someone imminently planning a terror attack. Second, he or she could only be killed if there was no other way of apprehending them short of death. Third, there could be no danger of killing innocent civilians in such an attack.
The leaked IDF memos proved that the IDF, after the Supreme Court ruling, had liquidated terrorists included on the list, but had publicly released information on their killing which made it appear as if they had been killed during a normal military operation in which they posed a threat to IDF soldiers. In reality, they were killed in cold blood.
In the memo, the army senior staff explicitly permit killing the victims even if civilians might be killed. It also made no provision for capturing the wanted person alive. The mission’s goal was death. In another memo, the chief of staff specifically postpones a killing timed for the visit of a U.S. secretary of state. In other words, the victim was not a “ticking bomb” and postponement of his death was a matter of political expediency as it would embarrass the government for it to happen during a U.S. diplomatic visit.
Haaretz published its story in 2008 thus embarrassing the IDF. But as far as I know, the Supreme Court was not embarrassed enough to take any remedial action to ensure its ruling was respected. Further, another part of the ruling directed the establishment of a committee to review these assassination and ensure they comply with the Supreme Court directive. To this day, such a committee has not been established.
As late as 2009, the IDF announced it had killed wanted militants on the West Bank. The army claimed they were armed and thus posed a threat, but even it admitted they had not fired a shot. Palestinian witnesses claimed they were executed in cold blood. As far as the Israeli military is concerned, impunity–but not the truth–goes marching on.
The Israeli who leaked these documents did a great service to Israeli democracy, even if she potentially violated a law. What was worse–the IDF treating the highest court in the land with impunity while engaging in acts of savagery violating international law? Or a young person who saw an evil and attempted to expose it?
Someone please tell me what kind of democracy allows its intelligence and military to run roughshod over the rule of law. What kind of country allows its domestic intelligence service to arrest a journalist secretly and maintain her in detention secretly. In what kind of country does a journalist simply disappear with other journalists and news outlets having no recourse to publish about it? China? Cuba? Vietnam? Iran? North Korea? Is that what Israel is aiming for? To be no better than countries ruled by despots?
I say to the Shin Bet and IDF: remove the gag order. Allow your allegedly free press to report this story. Don’t treat someone doing their duty as a citizen as an enemy of the state. I look forward to the time when I can make my original post accessible once again.
There are several Hebrew sources which have reported on this story. Here is a wonderful fable about an imaginary place called Shoo-Shoo land which disappears a journalist without a trace. The ejournal of the Israel Democracy Institute, The Seventh Eye, has also written a tough critique of this incident, It Can’t Happen Here. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing about this in English yet.
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Lacking Hebrew, I could only read Uri Blau’s English article.
I’ll note the already much overused “ticking bomb” phrase has been morphed into a whole “ticking infrastructure”. It’s easy enough to put under that rubric each and every member of any “terrorist” (with or without the scary quotes) organisation, their associates and families, their bakers (Gaza flour mill) and dairy producers (Bekaa, Lebanon – after all, terrorists eat bread and yoghurt, too). Any relation to an immediate threat – the actual proverbial “ticking bomb” is made obsolete or, as one of Blau’s military sources said, “the criteria for a ‘ticking bomb’ change if Condoleezza Rice is in the country”.
Blau consistently speaks of “preventive” actions, however he quotes Aharon Barak with “targeted preemption”. There’s a meaningful legal distinction between “prevention” and “preemption” – the latter can be lawful, the former not – which I can’t imagine to have been lost on Barak. The military rationale to nevertheless employ “prevention”, as confirmed by Yair Naveh in the interview, is to avoid risk of harm to themselves at all cost – the very same RoE that worked so wonderfully in Gaza last year.
Naveh again: “Don’t bother me with the High Court orders, I don’t know when there were High Court orders and when there weren’t. I know that a targeted assassination is approved and there is a preventive action procedure and I receive instructions from the Operations Directorate.”
IOW: “Fuck the law, I just follow orders.”
Which self-respecting High Court will gladly suffer such contempt? Chant with me: it’s the one of The Only Democracy In The Middle East.