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 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!'"
Levi admits that after major Kaiwan was found dead, the army contravened all its standing orders regarding the manner of checking the death of its soldiers. Not only was the obligatory post mortem examination not performed, but even "a cursory inspection of the corpse, stripped of its clothes", which needs to be carried out at once, was for no apparent reason not done by the officers in charge. But Levi does not object to the fact that major Kaiwan's family and the Israeli public at large were at first fed a completely false description of the event, which presented Kaiwan as falling in battle while attacking the enemy. In general, Levi's attitude toward all those breaches of discipline is indulgent. He either writes that "there must have been some reasons for not following the standing orders" without specifying what those reasons might have been; or else he just writes that a given order was not followed without commenting on it. The reiterated lies of the army and its spokesman are attributed by him to the "lack of coordination in the army's spokesman office". And so on and so forth.
It is interesting to mention what occurred after major Kaiwan's death but before the scandal blazed forth in early February 1995. The truth about major Kaiwan's death was of course widely known among Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon. Some of them were apparently disgusted enough with the army's lies and with the proscription of contacts with the press to talk on condition of anonymity with journalists from various local papers. The latter hinted in their papers that the army was not telling the truth. This went on for several weeks. Finally, a summary account of what had really happened, relying on a testimony of one soldier, was published by the Haifa Friday paper, "Kolbo" and reproduced by the entire Hebrew press. The "Kolbo" journalists then spoke on the phone with the commander of the Northern Command of Israeli army, general Amiram Levine who is in charge of the army operations in Lebanon, but who was appointed to this post only in early December 1994. It should be mentioned that Levine, widely considered to be a crony of the former Chief of Staff, Barak, is the most hawkish general now serving in the Israeli army. He had been involved in some scandals, giving rise to the accusations of parents of soldiers, presumably killed by fire of other units because of his negligence, that he was "not saying all the truth". Levine was appointed to his present position only after a protracted investigation by military authorities and appeals to the Supreme Court by the bereaved parents which ended in his acquittal, possibly due to a clumsy support he received from Barak. The appointment was justified by his past exploits in secret operations of Israeli army's elite units. Since the reputation of those units is currently declining, some people wondered even in print whether those exploits were really as grand as they were supposed to have been. Others would question the wisdom of appointing such a general to such a position. Finally, after the "Kolbo" journalists published the text of their talk with Levine, which they had prudently tape-recorded so that its accuracy could not be denied, the army appointed Levi to investigate. It was already mid-February 1995 when all the media began to demand that the problem of the certification of death be treated in depth.
Let me begin with the comprehensive summary produced by the veteran military correspondent Alex Fishman (Maariv, February 17). Fishman was able to quote an army booklet "After Me! Field Security Lessons", published in December 1984 and widely circulated among officers. As he notes, "the Chief of Staff in those days was no one else but general Moshe Levi". On page 16 of that booklet one can find the orders relating to an infantry attack against the enemy:
"There is a stage when you have to assail the enemy while keeping shooting. After you get up close, you need to make sure that he is dead. Only after his death is certified [hence the term. I. Shahak], you can leave the site where the enemy was at the time of the clash".
According to Fishman, Levi as the Chief of Staff himself read this passage from the booklet "at a meeting with senior Israeli army officers held in October 1984 in [the kibbutz] Ayelet Ha'shahar". At that time the Israeli army was still occupying about a third of Lebanon's territory. In my view the rules of this booklet were intended to change the methods of warfare. Specifically, the "certification of death" was, under the conditions of aggravated guerilla warfare, meant to serve a guarantee to perpetuate the Israeli occupation of much of Lebanese territory. The new method failed to achieve its purpose because the Israeli soldiers were already rather reluctant to attack the enemy. (And as the story of major Kaiwan's death shows, they are rather reluctant still.) According to Fishman, "none of the present at the meeting fell off their chairs" when hearing "what Levi said about the certification of death". On the contrary, "they considered the idea logical, professional and self-evident". Yet "today, 11 years later, the retired general Moshe Levi is acting as the sole investigator exploring the superfluous chatter in the affair of the fall of Major Kaiwan Khamed, R.I.P. Unlike his disciples in the current high command, who stubbornly insist that no certification of death procedure exists in the Israeli army, Moshe Levi cannot claim that he has never heard this term in this meaning before".
Fishman admits that "the term certification of death does not appear as an army order in writing" because it merely is a mandatory procedure of infantry attacks. Hence it is possible that "the army's Attorney General is not familiar with that term". I doubt [this] very much. I cannot see how the army's Attorney General could remain ignorant of the standing order to murder the wounded enemy fighters. Still, Fishman does admit that "generations of infantry fighters, especially those who have been specifically trained in anti-terrorist combat, can only respond to the belated public debate on the subject of certification of death with a cynical grin".
Fishman also provides some examples showing how the certification of death is actually performed.
"On August 25, 1994, late at night, a unit of paratroopers was on the move in South Lebanon, on its way to set up an ambush. During the preparations for the ambush a fighter spotted two terrorists moving some 250 meters away. The company commander ordered the soldiers to stay put and keep quiet. When the two terrorists approached up to the distance of some 100 meters, they could be accurately targeted and fired at. The soldiers attacked, shooting in three directions. The terrorists were too surprised to return fire. One terrorist was killed at once from the first volley. The second was wounded, dropped his weapon and lay on the ground in the area of the clash. During the attack and shooting the soldiers managed to inspect the body of only one terrorist.
"It was later found that the wounded terrorist had succeeded in fleeing some 30 meters south of the site of the clash. With the first rays of dawn the unit began to 'search backwards' [the official name of the procedure of murdering the wounded, I. Shahak]. They knew for sure that the second terrorist must have been somewhere close by... In the course of searching backwards one soldier noticed what was said to be 'a suspicious movement'. The soldiers found the second terrorist and shot him to death. An army investigation which followed in the aftermath of that event did not dwell upon it, except for one laconic sentence of its report: 'In the morning another terrorist was identified, whereupon the unit attacked and liquidated him'. The platoon commander and the commander of the Northern Command did not deal at all with the killing of the second terrorist in their accounts submitted for investigation. But the brigade commander did mention it in a brief sentence: '...in the morning, the force went out to comb the area and in the process it located the wounded terrorist and killed him'. In the analysis, the report concluded: 'The soldiers of the unit showed they pursued their aim. Since they were certain that a wounded terrorist must have been somewhere close by, they searched the area thoroughly without stopping until they located him and killed him.'"
"This incident, one of many similar ones in South Lebanon, was assessed as a success. The terrorists were liquidated without any casualties on our side. The liquidation of a terrorist in the course of a search was performed exactly in accordance with the regulation manual which the Combat Theory Department of the Chief Paratroopers and Infantry Commander's office had published in 1993. The manual deals with all stages of the clash and searching backwards under fire. 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.
"Soldiers do not understand the high-fallutin' words of lawyers and politicians in uniform. In the army lingo the procedure has since long ago been called 'certification of death'. Although that phrase does not appear in any written regulation, transcripts of investigations held during many years indicate that soldiers use it frequently. Describing their actions in the field, they would say 'we did certify' or 'we did not certify'. No one recollects any senior officer present during such investigations to whom such statements would sound extraordinary. In a natural way, such lingo phrases gradually infiltrated the military vocabulary and the content of investigations. Incidentally, the author of the quoted chapter in the Paratroopers and Infantry Command manual of regulations served as commander of Golani brigade until several years ago. Presumably he did not only write but also trained his soldiers to follow exactly the quoted instructions of how to search backwards."
Yet, as Fishman informs us, the phrase "certification of death" has encountered strong objections,
"of chief paratrooper and military academies' commanders who tried to prevent its use for reasons which were far from sentimental. According to the testimony of one such officer, the phrase 'certification of death' sounded in a way that was judged not educational. Since soldier's duty in battle is to kill rather than to certify, the officer feared that the phrase may lower the motivation to kill. Nevertheless, all attempts to eliminate its use have failed. Every generation of company and platoon commanders would pass it on to the next generation. It was even used in the officers' academy. Junior officers who graduated from Education Base 1 were reporting that the term 'certification of death' appeared in recent years not only in rehearsals of ambush procedures, but also in training for urban combat, for clashes in open areas, etc."
A great many of Israelis, concretely combat soldiers, their friends and families, do know that the wounded enemies are routinely murdered and use the unofficial term 'certification of death' in referring to these murders. In spite of that, the highest level Israeli authorities are able to obfuscate this fact by pretending that the issue is whether the thus named procedure is mentioned in in the army's official records. Thus, according to Gabby Baron (Yediot Ahronot, February 14):
"Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin yesterday emphatically denied that there existed any 'certification of death' procedure in the Israeli army. He admitted that 'here and there there might have been aberrations, but whenever they occur they are dealt with'. Rabin said it in his opening speech at a meeting of the Labor Party faction in the Knesset. As he explained it, the issue of 'certification of death' did arise during a well-attended conference dealing with routine security held last year, with the Chief of Staff Ehud Barak taking part. One of the participants raised the problem, and clear orders prohibiting certification of death were then issued. The Prime Minister added, however, that he was not willing to restrain the soldiers on routine security missions who clashed with terrorists. He stressed that 'the soldiers must then be free to do whatever the combat circumstances require, or even more than that. Whenever after a clash with the terrorists it is found that not all of them have been killed or that some of them resumed firing and wounded our soldiers, orders are given in the course of the operation to return, examine the bodies and certify that none of them were still moving and alive. The soldiers must do it to protect their own lives. Since we send them into battle, we must let them exercise their judgment. If any terrorist is found to still move, our soldiers must shoot him. But if it is clear that all terrorists have already been killed, there is no order to shoot them again to make their death absolutely sure'.
"Rabin's statement was corroborated yesterday by a senior judicial authority, who stated that in the Israeli army there existed no official procedure bearing the name 'certification of death'. According to him, the existence of such a procedure would have amounted to a legal license to murder, and therefore no such procedure could exist. The same senior member of the judiciary added, however, that in order to prevent casualties on our side during a battle with terrorists, anything was permissible if there was a fear that a wounded terrorist might still use his weapon or one lying nearby to fire at our troops."
It can be seen that Rabin in effect admits that the wounded are murdered routinely. No Labor or Meretz politicians raised any objections against it.
It may therefore be presumed that with or without legal niceties, and with no matter what excuses, under certain circumstances the Israeli army or other branches of the Israeli Security System are routinely murdering the wounded enemies. Apparently, the procedure has a long history. Some "new historians" tell us that during the war of 1947-49 Israeli forces didn't take a single Palestinian POW, even though they did take some POWs from the Arab armies. The obvious implication is that there must have been an order to murder all armed Palestinians who fell in Israeli hands. The existence of an order to the same effect is assumed, in my view rightly, by Dr. Benny Morris, regarding "the Palestinian infiltrators" from 1949-1956. It is a fact that few if any such "infiltrators" were taken prisoner alive. Nevertheless, the first Fatah "infiltrators" of 1965-67 were already captured alive and put on trial, and the same holds true for Palestinian and other fighters after the Six Day War. It would mean that at some time between 1956 and 1965 the standing order to murder all Palestinian POWs was rescinded. The moot point is when was it reintroduced.
Fishman (ibid.) says something about it implicitly.
"Apparently, the term 'certification of death' first appeared in the army in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Some army veterans are willing to swear that the first to use it were the men of the Golani elite corps, who in those days were very busy in the so- called 'Fatah Land' in South Lebanon. Yet no one disputes the fact that the phrase must have been coined earlier, during routine security operations performed in the framework of anti-terror combat. Security officers in El-Al and embassy guards were familiar with it since the late 1960s, when they were being trained in ways to cope with a surprise terrorist assault. In the army's pistol ranges intended solely for anti- terror units the trainees diligently repeat: 'You confront the enemy, you open fire, you approach closer, you open fire until you reach him and you certify the death by one bullet more from a point blank range.' This formula is learned by everyone trained in anti-terrorist combat.
"However, some misgivings over the sound of "certification of death' phrase appeared in the army in the mid-1980s, during the Israeli army's long stay in Lebanon. Some tales of the soldiers about the recourse to the certification of death procedure under unclear conditions were brought to the notice of the then commander of the Northern Command, Ori Orr [now a Labor MK and Chairman of Knesset Committee for Foreign and Defense Affairs, I. Shahak]. The issue was subsequently discussed in internal army forums. As a result, the instructions were clarified. 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. For example, a soldier described an ambush set by himself together with the company commander and another soldier. The three assaulted some terrorists killing them all.
'The following morning', the soldier recounted, 'we went to the site to examine the terrorists' bodies. The company commander gave an order to shoot at the corpses to certify death. Didn't he see that the terrorists were already dead?'
"Presumably, the objection was against wasting ammunition and against firing not in the course of a military operation. These are the issues on which the Israeli army tries to be as strict as it can for the sake of maintaining discipline."
Fishman includes "another testimony from that period of time":
"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.
The media commotion that arose in the aftermath of the tragic mistake scared the army which hurried to quickly bury the unwritten procedure between some skeletons in the closet. At that time the undercover units in the territories were exposed to fierce criticism, and the Israeli army was accused of deploying death squads. The operational error in the Eli Isha affair occurred exactly when the army was busy rebutting such criticism. Needless to say, the affair further undermined the army's reputation. Testimonies published by B'Tselem about the activities of the undercover units contained instances of resorting to certification of death in clashes with terrorists. In the course of the late 1994 correspondence between B'Tselem and the Defense Ministry and Attorney General's Office on the subject of certification of death, the Defense Ministry's Deputy General Director Hayim Yisraeli wrote:
"A procedure of the kind which you call 'certifying the death' does not exist in the Israeli army."
And the army's Attorney General wrote in another letter to the B'Tselem:
"There is no procedure of certification of death in the Israeli army."
In contrast to these statements, the Defense Minister used the contested term in a letter of December 8, 1994 to MK Hashem Mahmid who had inquired about a specific case of certification of death. Rabin wrote, relying on a 'soldier's testimony':
"...at 11:30 the terrorist Khalil Nasser advanced towards a soldier in the center of Hebron in order to stab and kill him. Another soldier present on the spot identified the assailant and fired at him in order to prevent the stabbing. Two other soldiers present nearby fired more shots, as one of them explained, in order to certify death out of the fear that the local resident might have been booby-trapped."
Yet further down in his letter the Defense Minister added:
"In the Israeli army there are no instructions, regulations or orders of certification of death, and this is how the commanders and soldiers are unequivocally instructed and briefed."
Fishman says that all those "instructions" notwithstanding, "in the wake of the Eli Isha affair" the General Staff was determined to remove "the term 'certification of death' – even if it had never appeared in writing – once for ever from any military usage". Yet Fishman ends his article by the following summary of the soldiers' behavior in the Kaiwan affair:
"Then came the affair of Major Kaiwan, R.I.P., pulling out one skeleton more from the closet of the certification of death. According to their own testimonies, the soldiers kept searching while firing, spotted a man lying at a distance of five meters from them, felt threatened by him and therefore shot him to death. Was it their bullets which killed Kaiwan is another question. But they did exactly what they had been taught to do in order to save their lives".
It is obvious from this description that the official procedure of "searching while firing" or "searching backwards" involves the systematic murder of wounded enemies. It is also obvious that the expression "felt threatened" is just a standard excuse, which according to my sources combat soldiers are taught to use in their reports when they are taught how to "certify death". Fishman continues:
"And the army keeps spouting formalistic replies. It exploits the fact that the procedure of certification of death is not mentioned in its records, and therefore, so far as it is concerned, it doesn't exist. Yet it thereby confuses not only the civilians. Of concern to the army should be the fact that it is thus confusing the soldiers who need to know how to protect their lives. Formalistic replies substituting for clear explanations are military politics. It is a malignancy from which the new Chief of Staff is expected to free both us and the army. But it appears that the army is still ashamed of the fact that its business is war and that killing the enemy, especially in anti-terrorist combat, is a means to achieve war aims."
It seems quite clear that the murder of wounded enemy and of the POWs is under whatever name going to continue to be the policy of the Israeli army and intelligence: at least on some territories and against specified kinds of the enemy.
Fishman's article was in my view the best informed among great many Hebrew press articles and electronic media pronouncements which during February and March dealt with the "certification of death" issue. It is, however, worth noting that no Israeli politician said a word about it. The seeming exception were the two MKs from Arab parties who threatened to submit a pertinent motion to the Knesset, but after the government "appealed to external factors" (almost certainly Arafat) they didn't submit it. It is also worth noting that nobody from the Israeli left has protested in the press against murdering the wounded enemy. Since the Oslo Accords it is in Israel the rule that almost all human rights violations (except for those against which the Palestinian Autority also protests) are being protested against only by persons associated with the politically powerless center of the Israeli political spectrum. The protests against "certification of death", some of which I am going to quote, conform to this pattern.
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". Negbi said that in juxtaposition to general Levine, who defined his main concern as " extraordinary sensitivity of the Druze", which in the general's view justified lying to them.
"Significantly, in Kaiwan's case the army's and the government's main concern was with an unfortunate statement of a regional commander, and with a report to a bereaved family which ultimately was exposed as mendacious: not with routine 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 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 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 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? The phrase stubbornly reappears time and again on public agenda. Is it an official institution of the Israeli army or an approved practice of the combat units?"
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 ot 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.
Let me also quote the views of Orit Shohat (Haaretz, March 8).
"The report of Moshe Levi's investigation of the circumstances of major Kaiwan's death raises more questions than it answers. The first question is why instead of the entire report only one of its chapters has been published? Did the subject warrant secrecy on security grounds? How can Levi write in the report that the Israeli army should stop concealing the truth from the public, when most of the report's text remains buried in the depths of some drawer?"
Shohat writes that:
"Levi's report contains nothing that was not already known from the Haifa newspaper 'Kolbo'. He only made the facts more presentable and used nicer sounding terms. Thus the word 'lie' was replaced by the phrase 'the double or perhaps triple system of reporting'. But lie is a lie".
After repeating the already quoted description of Kaiwan's death as provided by Levi, Shohat asks:
"If someone identified Kaiwan after the shots were fired, the distance must have been short, and perhaps a soldier who shot him did not know him. Shooting a wounded man from a close range with intention to kill him is called certification of death".
She concludes that:
"...one cannot preach morality to Israeli army soldiers by telling them to assist Hizbollah casualties while risking their own lives, but neither can one cover everything up by saying that soldiers do not kill wounded enemies. Soldiers who hear the denials from the media but know that reality is different, will eventually become commanders, lying in a 'double or perhaps triple reporting system'. They will hide the facts from bereaved parents, they will conceal the truth from their commanders in uncertainty over what may or may not be reported and over what may or may be not be considered an offense, and in the end they will lie to inquiry committees set up to determine whether or not they had lied".
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). Michael tried to explain the Israeli obstinacy in refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Let me quote him extensively. "Much as I would like it, I cannot forbear to express my amused surprise when I see the convolutions the Israeli government reacts with to the Egyptian demand that Israel sign the Non- Proliferation Treaty. 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?"
B. Michael provides many other instances of Israeli violations of international law, which I cannot quote here. Nor can I quote his whole argument to the effect that Israel's refusal to sign the Non- Proliferation Treaty has nothing to do with "Israel being incapable of sidestepping" any convention it chooses to disregard. "For heavens sake, I don't suspect it of so much incompetence", says B. Michael, while admitting that this attitude is firmly supported by a majority of the Israelis. "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.
Report No. 152, 21 March 1995
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Systematic murder of PoW's and suspects by Israeli forces: the so-called 'certification of death'|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1996, 7 p.m.|