Tuesday, July 28, 2009

IDF "Shuns" Rights Meeting on Cast Lead

by Matthew Wagner
28 July 09

(My first question concerns the title of this article. Which is more appropriate? The women shunned meeting with the wife-beater or boycotted the wife-beater? The RHR that abuses both it's title as well as speaking anything that may resemble truth, is not an organization that has a right to call anyone to attend to their pronouncements. Ignore would have been a more appropriate word.)

The IDF will boycott (ignore) a Rabbis For Human Rights conference slated for the capital's Van Leer Institute Wednesday that will scrutinize the moral, legal and religious dimensions of Operation Cast Lead.

"The conference will give expression to the discussion [of the military operation in Gaza Strip] that was aroused in Israeli society in recent weeks," said a press release announcing the conference.

Since Operation Cast Lead ended in January, NGOs such as B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch have leveled unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against Israeli soldiers.

The most recent criticism against the IDF was released by Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that gathers anonymous personal accounts of soldiers complaining of immoral or illegal behavior perpetrated against Palestinians either by themselves or by other soldiers. (See Breaking the Rules)

Breaking the Silence will provide at least one eyewitness account of purported IDF war crimes during Wednesday's conference, said Noga Eitan, a spokeswoman for Rabbis for Human Rights.

In addition, an Israeli actress will portray an eyewitness account of a Palestinian woman who claims the army committed war crimes against her and other Gaza residents during the offensive.

During the conference, rabbis, legal experts and intellectuals will debate various issues connected with morality during war.

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutch, a member of Rabbis for Human Rights, who defines himself as a Conservative Jew, will argue that the IDF's rules of engagement used during the campaign do not stand up to Jewish moral criteria.

"From eyewitness accounts and other information that has been revealed, I am under the impression that the IDF violated Jewish law during its campaign in Gaza," said Novis-Deutch, who is a reserve sergeant-major. "According to Jewish law, every precaution should be taken to prevent the loss of civilian lives on the enemy side, even if it means that more of our soldiers get killed."

He added that the source for this principle was a Talmudic text in the tractate of Sanhedrin (7a). In the text, a Jew is being threatened with death if he does not agree to kill another Jew. The Amoraic sage Rava rules that it is forbidden to save one's own life by killing another Jew because "your blood is not redder than his."

Novis-Deutch learns from this text that it is forbidden for the army to risk the lives of noncombatants on the Palestinian side to protect the lives of IDF soldiers.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, said in response to the IDF boycott, "For an entire month we negotiated with the IDF Spokesman's Office.

"We are perplexed by the IDF's decision, which raises serious questions about the willingness of the IDF to scrutinize its own behavior," said Ascherman. "The moral questions that arise have such far-reaching ramifications that we are all obligated to put aside our differences so we can save what unites us."

Other issues that will be raised at the conference include the question: "Is the IDF's Legal Department's Function to Justify or to Set Limits?"

This session will be attended by legal experts from Tel Aviv University, Kiryat Ono College, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and a former members of the IDF's legal department.

There will also be a discussion of the IDF's code of ethics, titled "The Spirit of the IDF," that will include an ethics expert from Bar-Ilan University and the head of the premilitary academy at Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael.

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