By Yossi Sarid
By its very nature, an army is not designed to issue justice. As we know, an army marches on its stomach, and a stomach is capable of digesting injustice as well; it is not necessarily guided by justice. Every army, especially during a bloody conflict, has other urgent problems. Justice waits until things calm down, and meanwhile it is invited somewhere else, if at all. We should mention here the famous statement by Georges Clemenceau, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”
Last week, a military court convicted Israel Defense Forces Sergeant Taysir al-Heib of killing Tom Hurndall, an International Solidarity Movement activist. More than two years have passed since Hurndall was shot in the head in the Rafah region, became a “vegetable,” was hospitalized in England and died a year later.
The first IDF investigation was like every investigation: “The soldiers acted in accordance with standing orders.” According to Al-Heib’s original testimony, Hurndall was armed with a pistol, and therefore he was fated to be shot by a sniper. This version was supported by that of other soldiers who were there. The entire affair, with the fraudulent findings of the groundless investigation, was supposed to be buried along with Hurndall.
But this time the case was not closed, because Hurndall had a mother who did not accept the report, and a father as well. And his parents are not from here, they are from there, from England, and what a mother and father see from there is not always what once wants to and can see from here. The family did not rest and did not remain silent: They gave interviews to all the media organizations, they protested and demanded an additional investigation, they enlisted public opinion in England, they applied heavy pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And Her Majesty’s government, albeit halfheartedly, explained to the government of His Majesty the IDF that this affair could not be buried.
And surprise, surprise, a truly diabolical twist, the new investigation came up with entirely different findings: Hurndall did not have a pistol, he was even wearing identifying reflective clothing, our soldier only wanted to deter him and the bullet that was supposed to miss happened to hit the mark.
How can one fail to think about other investigations, whose findings are full of holes and don’t have a leg to stand on, but nor do they have a foreign government to tear them to bits, to demand a genuine investigation and to get it, too?
From the start of the intifada in October 2000 through this month, Israeli security forces have killed at least 1,722 Palestinians in the territories who were not involved in the fighting, including 563 minors. During that same period, only 108 investigations were opened by Metzach, the Military Police Detective Unit, and only 19 ended in indictments; only in two cases were soldiers convicted of causing death. These are the statistics of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which have usually been proven correct. It is easy to guess how this picture would have looked had England and other countries been in the picture the entire time. The U.S. administration, for example, is invited to test its strength in the case of Rachel Corrie, another ISM activist, who was crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer in Rafah.
The administration in Washington will probably not hasten to accept the invitation; it will have difficulties finding time to avenge Corrie’s blood, because it has its own serious problems: It is too busy whitewashing its scandals in Iraq, Guantanamo and Afghanistan.
The bitter story of Hurndall, with its hasty vicissitudes, explains only too well the constant demand to take investigations away from the army, which like any other organization should not and cannot investigate itself. The IDF should carry out the operational investigations in order to learn the necessary lessons, but the investigations into incidents of killing and wounding should be placed in the hands of professional and independent groups.
It is hard to suppress and overcome another forbidden thought: Was it easier to open a closed file, to reinvestigate everything, to indict and convict in the Hurndall affair, because the soldier who fired is a Bedouin?