If there's an Inquiry, there Probably Won't be an Indictment
By Akiva Eldar
December 31, 2003

Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fired at a group of Israelis who demonstrated Friday against the separation fence don't have to worry about the investigation of the incident launched by the army this week. Statistics compiled by the IDF's Judge Advocate General (JAG) indicate that the chances of an inquiry leading to a court indictment are no greater than 15 percent. Data delivered three months ago by the JAG to the B'Tselem human rights organization show that during the first three years of the intifada, during which time more than 1,000 unarmed Palestinian civilians were killed, the IDF opened just 57 inquiries of soldiers for gunfire incidents in which persons were killed or wounded: Only nine of these cases ended up as indictments.

Yesterday, it was impossible to obtain information from the IDF Spokesman about verdicts in these nine cases and their accompanying penalties (if indeed there were any). The majority of shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians are not investigated by the IDF. Under procedures enforced by the JAG, the IDF commander in the field ordinarily investigates such shooting incidents and decides whether further measures are needed.

Even when an investigation is launched, the chances are very high that the soldier who fired at demonstrators will have done so with impunity and end up hiking in the forests of Colombia or enjoying himself somewhere else, far from the reaches of an Israeli military court. This happened in the case of the IDF soldier who was accused of killing four Palestinian civilians, three of them children, as a result of shells fired by a tank in central Jenin in July 2002. The officer finished his tour of duty, was discharged, and embarked on a pleasure trip overseas. The thought that a man accused of negligently causing the death of four Arabs ought to be stopped from leaving the country never crossed anyone's mind.

Another example: One month after the Jenin incident, soldiers deployed at a roadblock in Nablus fired at Ahmed al-Karini, a city employee who was traveling in a rescue vehicle that had a siren on its roof. An investigation of the incident has not yet finished. Also, prosecutors in the Northern Command continue to review the case of Shadin abu-Hijla, a 60-year-old woman who was killed by gunfire while sitting in the garden of her Nablus home. The incident occurred in 2002.

For Domestic Purposes Only

The negative response displayed by the U.S. government to Ariel Sharon's Herzliya address disturbed the Prime Minister's Office. As though it were not enough that the Likud has taken umbrage to the idea of separation from the territories and the Jewish settlers are apoplectic about the plan to dismantle settlements, the White House has joined the chorus of criticism.

The Bush administration is upset by the thought that Sharon might scrap the scenario whereby union of the fox and the sheep begets a road map friendly to the U.S. president. Foreign Ministry officials say that phrases used by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in a conversation with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom would have made headlines had they been made public. Agitated by the prospect of Sharon's disengagement from the road map, Rice spoke, among other things, of "a grave crisis between the two countries."

For Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, a conciliatory phone call with Rice was not enough. He asked Ambassador to the U.S., Danny Ayalon, to lobby urgently with Rice's trusted deputy, Elliott Abrams, who is responsible for the Middle East region. A hint of damage control measures taken in Jerusalem could be heard at a press briefing given by Abrams the day after the Herzliya address. A correspondent persistently asked for details about Sharon's separation plan: he wanted information about items such as arrangements by which people and goods would cross borders. Abrams responded that there's little point in getting into practical details since the Herzliya address was designed primarily for domestic political purposes. It would be interesting to know who supplied that interpretation to the U.S. official.

For officials in Israel's foreign and defense ministries, the fact that Sharon's unilateral separation plan fuses an internal political ploy and media spin is no secret. These senior officials are held in check by vociferous criticism voiced by their bosses, Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; they are reluctant to divulge their opinion that Sharon's "plan" is only a bluff. They prefer to keep their mouths shut, fearing that articulating their view would encourage rivals in their ministries to complain that they are merely trying to please their bosses.

Here is one evaluation of the separation plan provided to Haaretz on the grounds that its sources remain anonymous. First of all, the United States, Israel's most important ally, vehemently opposes any unilateral plan which hints about Israeli disengagement from the road map. American officials have made it clear to senior Israeli counterparts that even though their faith in the viability of the road map is withering, it is indispensable - as long as it remains on paper, it provides an international warrant for the struggle against Islamic terror. Furthermore, for the Americans it would be better for Israel to remain in all of the territories until the dispute is resolved at a happier, future date than to dismantle settlements such as Netzarim while beefing up settlements like Ariel on the West Bank and others in Gaza's Gush Katif.

The Great Separation Bluff

Second, according to this analysis, a separation fence that will confine the Palestinians to barely half of the territory on the West Bank would not bring an end to their struggle against Israel. Knesset members Ahmed Tibi and Zahava Gal-On tell a story about a trip to China. While visiting the Great Wall, their host, a member of China's Foreign Ministry, called the structure one of humanity's greatest accomplishments and the only man-made structure that can be seen by the naked eye from outer space.

However, he added: "None of this helped us. The Mongols conquered China in the end. You would do well to remember this example from China's history when you build your wall to ward off the Palestinians."

The demarcation of a new border (even one that might punctiliously be called a "temporary border") and the end of diplomatic contacts would be interpreted by the Palestinians as a declaration of war. And what will Israel do if it turns out after the sides are separated that Hamas has established on the Gaza Strip a new missile production factory? Will we bomb such a facility from the air? Or will we invade the Palestinian state? Who will guarantee that after we carry out the "separation" the Palestinians won't poison groundwater used by citizens of Israel? How would we control the spread of contagious diseases; after all, concrete walls and electronic fences are no protection against germs. And what would we do when neighbors on the eastern side of the fence, in the Beit Aryeh region, set up radio stations that disrupt communications of planes that fly to and from Israeli air space? Would we send a commando unit to blow up these radio stations?

After Israel dismantles isolated settlements and separates itself from the territories, the Palestinians would be able to issue a declaration of statehood. Their state would be accepted as a member of the United Nations, and the new state would be entitled to invite an international force, or some pan-Arab army, to defend its sovereignty. Under such circumstances, would Israel be willing to go eye-to-eye with a French peacekeeping force, or with Egyptian soldiers?

A third problem: The prime minister has declared that he will not wait for the Palestinians indefinitely. Should Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia refuse to detach himself from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israel will detach itself from the territories in another few months. Has Sharon asked what such a step would mean for the Palestinians? How, for instance, would they move raw materials to factories in the territories (many of which serve as subcontractors for Israeli firms in the shoe or textile industry). How exactly would Palestinian products slated for export go overseas? Who would provide electricity to Palestinians in lieu of Israel's electric company? Israel cannot surrender responsibility for people who have lived under its control for 36 years - separating itself in an instant, it cannot leave them in the dark. With infants dying in hospitals in Ramallah and Gaza City, will we offer them humanitarian aid, hoping that they will respond to this offer exactly as the Iranians did the day after their devastating earthquake?