A License to Kill Civilians

Shulamit Aloni, 9/17/2003

(a former Meretz member of Knesset and cabinet minister)
translated from the original Hebrew in "Haaretz," May 4, 2003

Despite international laws against the killing of civilians, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the use of flechette shells is permissible within urban areas

In its decision of April 27, Israel's highest court has essentially issued a license to kill civilians by determining that the use of flechette shells fired from tanks is not prohibited by international law. The court has thereby done its duty by the occupation army, which uses flechette rounds in densely populated areas. The High Court of Justice (?)* knows that the killing of civilians is banned by international law and every other human law; that, evidently, didn't bother the court.
Flechette shells, in regular use by the IDF in densely populated Palestinian residential areas, spread out over an area with an average radius of 200 meters and cause mortal injury to civilians — to women, men, children and old people, with no distinction whatever — by scattering small, lethal metal darts. The supreme court, which at first scorned even to hear the petition on the grounds that it amounted to a demand to dictate to the IDF the means it could employ, forgot that its task is to protect human life.
In relying on the idea that flechette rounds fired from tanks are not prohibited by international law, the court has entirely ignored the spirit of the law. The judges found grounds to permit, or more precisely did not find grounds to forbid [use of this weapon in this manner], as if the impermissible could be made permissible. The fact that these shells have killed women sitting in a tent, or in another instance killed three young people, made no impression on the High Court of Justice. Just as the court was not impressed when one-ton bombs fell out of the sky over a crowded residential area because the army sought to exterminate a wanted man and, in the process, killed "only" his wife along with him.
The president of the supreme court, Justice Aharon Barak, once declared that everything is justiciable; except [the behavior of] the IDF, apparently. So the lives, dignity, property and rights of Palestinians may be trampled. Palestinians can be abused, robbed, tortured and killed, and there's no court to offer justice to these people or to rein in the killing and the horror: not the supreme court, and certainly not the judge advocate general's office, which knows just what to ignore, where to bestow immunity and whom to hound to the bitter end.
I don't think the supreme court justices have become jaded, but it appears to me that they feel themselves menaced by certain reckless members of Knesset who are trying to gnaw away at the authority of the court, as well as by a regime headed by three generals (the prime minister, the former chief of staff who is now defense minister, and the current chief of staff), all of them battle-happy right-wingers who are close to the settlers and the advocates of ethnic cleansing, if not their active partners.
I write these words with great sadness and shame, because it's not the case that our army is "the most moral army in the world." In the name of the war against terror, acts of terror, acts of intolerable piracy and humiliation, are being committed. For a society with pretensions to democracy and humanism, when there's no court with the courage to stand firm under fire, the next stop is the International Court at The Hague.
The nonsense that any criticism of us is anti-Semitism, and the perverted use of references to the Holocaust, while it and its victims are cheapened, cannot help us when it comes to indefensible deeds. No justification is to be found there for permitting the firing of flechette shells from tanks against a civilian population.
It doesn't strike me as coincidental that the justices of the supreme court, before sitting in judgment on petitions like these, try to persuade the petitioners to withdraw their plea. They simply want nothing to do with the subject, given the popularity of the IDF, the populism of the present government, and the attacks on the court by right-wing members of Knesset. The courage has all run dry, apparently, and the implications demand that we take a very long, hard look at ourselves.


*Translator's note: The full Hebrew name for Israel's supreme court is "The High Court of Justice"; the question mark appears in the original text.