|March 30, 1998|
Dear Ms. McLellan:
I call to your attention the following excerpts from an article written by the Israeli political commentator, Israel Shahak:
REPORT NO. 152 ISRAEL SHAHAK, 21 MARCH 1995|
SYSTEMATIC MURDER OF POW'S AND SUSPECTS BY ISRAELI
FORCES: THE SO-CALLED "CERTIFICATION OF DEATH"
It has been known for a long time that under certain circumstances Israel was ordering its troops to murder the wounded enemy fighters and/or prisoners of war as a matter of policy. For example: the obvious fact (not noticed, however, by the American media) that during years of thousands of military operations in Lebanon involving all kinds of Israeli formations, no single POW has been captured. This fact can be explained only by assuming that the wounded and/or the POWs were being deliberately "finished off" during such operations. This policy was not always in force. At times, from June 1982 to some time before June 1985, for example, Israeli forces in Lebanon, whether fighting the civilians or regular armies or the guerillas, were taking prisoners, interning them and caring for the wounded among them. At some point of time, however, the policy changed. The best proof of that is the fact that, with the exception of two individuals whose kidnap was officially announced, for years no Lebanese has survived as a captive in the hands of Israeli forces operating in Lebanon.
The same pattern of change can be observed in Israeli operations against Palestinian fighters, whether inside or outside Palestine. Some units of the Israeli army never report taking a prisoner, whereas some other units capture them. The conclusion is inescapable: under certain circumstances Israeli units are systematically liquidating enemies who may have been wounded or captured. Israeli soldiers, as will [be] shown below, are trained for implementation of this policy. The common name of this policy is "certification of death." This is how it is unofficially called by junior officers and the soldiers, by the Hebrew press and by the Israeli Jewish society at large. The Israeli army, however, uses other terms whenever it refers to that policy.
Needless to say, when carried out in thousands of cases over a long time period, such a policy is bound to result in the so-called "mishaps": i.e. cases in which a wounded Israeli soldier is mistaken for a wounded enemy and finished off by his fellow soldiers. Such a case occurred on December 19, 1994. The victim of the mistake was a Druze major of the Israeli army, Kaiwan Khamed. His death gave rise to the so far the most extensive discussion of the "certification of death" by the Hebrew press. This discussion will be summed up in this report.
Let me first briefly present the facts, but not as they were reported right after the incident, in a version which even the Israeli army had to eventually admit was mendacious, but as provided in a refurbished version in a report submitted by general (reserves) Moshe Levi, a former Chief of Staff (Davar, March 7, 1995), who after a press scandal was appointed to investigate the case. Levi's report mentions an Israeli force comprising soldiers from diverse units advancing on foot into an area north of the "Security Zone." The soldiers, apparently quite afraid of the Hizbollah whom they were expected to attack, were walking rather slowly. Major Kaiwan, who advanced at the head of the force, found himself after some time at some distance from the remainder of the unit. Only one soldier could still see Kaiwan's back when the Hizbollah suddenly opened fire from a well-positioned ambush. The Israeli forces fired back, but contrary to standing orders did not advance to attack the Hizbollah. Instead, they asked by wireless that some tanks stationed in their rear shell the Hizbollah positions. Exchange of fire continued for about 20 minutes. It was during that time that major Kaiwan was wounded, probably by Israeli fire. At least he was seen to fall down with a shriek by the mentioned single soldier who followed him. After Hizbollah retreated the Israelis advanced. The soldier who saw major Kaiwan falling down somehow failed to inform his fellow soldiers about it. "Our advancing troops reached a spot where they noticed somebody lying on the ground", writes Levi, "whereupon two soldiers fired several bullets in his head, and would have fired even more, if somebody wouldn't shout: 'Don't shoot! It is Kaiwan!'"
Discussing the search backwards the author of the manual added in a footnote that shooting at the central parts of the body was to be avoided, in view of the risk of thus exploding hand grenades or other explosive devices. It was recommended to shoot at the head. But in order to shoot someone in the head - as every soldier knows - one needs to come up close.|
It turned out that in some army units operating in Lebanon the prescribed techniques of combat were not closely adhered to. Some soldiers were taking delight in behaving rather wantonly. Moreover, in conversations with soldiers at the Israeli army Leadership School, some extremely problematic testimonies were heard, some of them having to do with certification of death.
A wounded terrorist was lying on his abdomen. An officer approached him from behind, and from a distance of four meters shot him twice in the buttocks without intent to kill him. The medic, whose job was to treat the wounded, emptied his magazine, shooting at the wounded man's legs. But the terrorist was still alive and groaning. And then they told the soldiers: "The doctor's vehicle cannot arrive in time, because it can't drive uphill." The soldiers laughed cynically.
Such testimonies have nothing to do with the techniques of minimizing the risks in the course of a battle. The described event was sheer lawlessness requiring a punishment. But the procedure under this discussion is a standard one.|
The [Israeli] army last dealt with the certification of death issue in July 1992, in the aftermath of killing a member of the Duvdevan [undercover] unit, Eli Isha, by two of his fellow soldiers. The phrase "certification of death" did not appear in the written reports of the Investigating Military Police nor in the summary of the Army's Attorney General. According to how the event was described, Eli Isha's identity was mistaken by two soldiers who thought that he was a wanted man and, feeling threatened by him, shot him while closing in on him until they reached a point blank range seeing him wounded. Since they felt threatened still, they finished him off. Everything was done according to all the rules of averting the risk which they had learned in the anti-terror combat course. Eli Isha's father later testified that his son's comrades kept explaining time and again that they had merely followed a routine procedure usually termed certification of death.
|Let me begin with Moshe Negbi, the legal correspondent of Maariv (February 17), who began his article by saying that "his main concern was the loss of Jewish sensitivity to the value of human life." ...|
|"Significantly, in Kaiwan's case the army's and the government's main concern was with ... a report to a bereaved family which ultimately was exposed as mendacious: not with routine[ly] killing the helpless wounded people in the framework of what is called 'certification of death.' This can indeed happen only in a society which is losing its sensitivity about human life with frightening speed."|
|Negbi says outright that "'certification of death,' at least in certain circumstances, amounts to plain murder." He quotes an Israeli law according to which "'whoever actively speeds up [some]one's death,' even when the victim is already critically wounded, is guilty of murder." He shows that this law has been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court in criminal cases. Even more significantly, Negbi reverses the question by asking:|
|"How would we react if 'certification of death' were performed on a wounded Israeli pilot who parachuted over an enemy territory? There have been cases of pilots and other Israeli soldiers who fell wounded (some seriously) into captivity and who yet eventually returned home alive and healthy."|
Let me add that there have been [a] few cases when Israeli pilots were killed by peasants whose villages they had bombed. Israel did not hesitate to describe such cases as murder, without considering that the villagers might have "felt threatened" by a pilot lying helpless on the ground, just as the Israeli soldiers are supposed to feel threatened.|
|"And I also have a nostalgic thought. When we were young (and perhaps naive), we read and heard numerous tales of how at the end of a battle our medics would treat the wounded enemy with the same dedication as our own casualties. I even remember a photo of a wounded Israeli lying next to a wounded enemy in the same hospital, which showed how both received the same kind of treatment. It has been a long time since we could hear such stories and see such pictures. Is this due to the hostility of the media to the government or to the declining moral standards?"|
|Let me skip Negbi's description of cases already discussed by Fishman and confine myself to his conclusions.|
|"The denial of an unwritten rule which is nevertheless routinely implemented on the ground is [an] extremely comfortable thing to do for the high echelons of the security establishment. They thus make it easier for themselves to evade moral, public and legal responsibility for the actions of soldiers and commanders. We still well remember the same kind of cowardly evasion from the first months of the Intifada. At that time they also chose to turn a blind eye to the contradiction between the written orders and the unwritten norms: the former forbidding to beat the rioters after their apprehension or to break their arms or legs, and the latter prescribing precisely that... In the cleavage between the written and unwritten rules, a culture of lies and falsehoods is bound to flourish. The official version is that 'there is no procedure of certification of death' since the law prohibits it. On the ground it is practiced, with nobody willing or able to eradicate it. How can the 'work-related accidents' in which our own soldiers are killed as a result of a 'non-existent' procedure be then explained? The only way out is then to whitewash and lie: first to the family, then to the public, and ultimately to the inquiry committees and to the courts. We already saw the same pattern of corruption in what happened in the 1970s and 1980s in the Shabak. The written orders and the law prohibited torture, the unwritten rules allowed it, and the only way out from this contradiction was the systematic perjury in the courts."|
|No less articulate are the views of Emmanuel Gross (Yediot Ahronot, February 19). Gross is a retired senior military judge: a circumstance which perhaps adds some weight to his words. He asks:|
|"Is 'certification of death' a legal order that must be obeyed? Or is there any indication that it is a patently illegal order which must be disobeyed? Is a commander who instructs his soldiers to 'certify death' protected by the law? ...|
|Gross assumes that certification of death is actually practiced. He also assumes that "military actions are subject to the norms of morality and law," and that "Israeli soldiers in combat are subject to the Israeli law and to international laws of conduct of warfare." On the ground of these assumptions he seeks some at least tentative answers to his questions. He concludes:|
|"If prior to combat instructions are issued to certify death, they can only mean: do not take prisoners, kill those who were not killed in the course of a clash or a battle. Such instructions are plain wrong, totally discrepant with the Israeli army's war morality, contradictory to the international law and unjustifiable on the grounds of self-defense. Orders to such an effect must in my view be disobeyed because they are patently illegal."|
|Gross takes into consideration that "our soldiers need to take precautions." But he firmly says that precautions are one thing, and "a general order to certify the death of everyone identified as a terrorist or enemy" another. Such an order is in his view "flagrantly illegal. It must not be obeyed." A commander who orders to certify death cannot, according to Gross,|
|"later defend himself by claiming a military necessity or self-defense... To sum up, 'certification of death' is in my view an order bearing all the characteristics of illegality. Any instruction which permits hurting anybody else, the enemy included, under conditions of no risk to our soldiers, is flagrantly illegal. A soldier who follows it violates the law, and so does the commander who so instructs his soldiers."|
|It should be noted that no legal authority deemed it fit to rebut Gross.|
|However, the by far best comment on the Israeli methods of covering up the violations of Israeli or international law, was written by B. Michael (Yediot Ahronot, 21 February). ... Since when the State of Israel takes international conventions seriously? The customary Israeli attitude towards any such noble-minded conventions has been both simple and effectual: to sign 'em and to toss 'em fast into the wastebasket. In no single instance an Israeli politician who ever signed an international convention later as much as contemplated to abide by what he had signed. Of course, if a particular convention happens to be compatible with the will, whim or spite of an Israeli government, there would be no objection to abide by it. But if an Israeli government wishes to violate a convention which Israel signed, it would not hesitate to violate it, disregarding its contents in a most callous manner.|
|"For example, Israel is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions. Did its solemn signature prevent it from robbing the inhabitants of a conquered territory of their land? Or from settling its own citizens on the territory it had conquered? Or from taxing the conquered people and pocketing a part of the money? Or from excavating archeological sites in order to then pilfer the artifacts? Or from encouraging or at least tacitly tolerating the procedure of 'certification of death,' i.e. from administering the finishing strokes to the wounded enemy? All such practices are for sure proscribed by the Geneva Conventions. Israel is also a signatory of the human rights convention. Did its signature prevent Israel from discriminating against its own citizens on grounds of ethnicity or religion? Or from legislating religious coercion? Or from denying any human rights of those under its military jurisdiction? Or from denying the rights of women?"|
|... [S]ays B. Michael ... "Have we then perhaps suddenly became honorable people who respect their promises, signatures and undertakings? Doesn't seem so." Let me just add a comment to it. As long as the U.S. and to some extent other Western countries continue for whatever reasons to condone almost every Israeli human rights and international law violation, the future Israeli governments can be safely presumed to persist in their present policies, including the policy of murdering the wounded enemy.|