The blindness of political purity
Activists from Gush Shalom, the leftist peace group, have sent letters to 15 Israel Defense Forces officers, warning that the movement is collecting evidence about actions that took place under their command in the territories for submission to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on suspicion that the officers committed war crimes.
This week, the prime minister asked the attorney general to investigate the Gush Shalom leaders. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said that the state prosector had yet to form an opinion on whether legal steps could be taken against the Gush Shalom activists. But irrespective of the legal questions, it is difficult not to regard Gush Shalom’s action as injudicious and wrong, and its damage is certainly going to overshadow the pure intentions of the activists.
Gush Shalom is a political movement that promotes the campaign against the occupation in various ways. These include organizing rallies and demonstrations, as well as monitoring IDF activity in the territories and publishing the results of this monitoring through various media channels.
This is all acceptable in any democracy. Collecting seemingly incriminating material against officers in an army that operates under the law in a sovereign state, according to the instructions of an elected government, can also be considered worthy civic action, on one condition – that the gathered information is published or presented to the law enforcement agencies in the country.
A Gush Shalom spokesman told Ha’aretz that the movement was considering passing on the information it collected to The Hague “only if our appeals to the courts in Israel are to no avail.” But even with this reservation, the decision to warn IDF officers is problematic. The inherent working assumption of the activists and the implicit threat in the letters to the officers is that those state institutions meant to implement the principles of democracy and protect the rule of law – including the courts, the parliament and the press – are insufficient, in Gush Shalom’s eyes, as legal institutions. The movement is in effect stating that if it is not satisfied (presumably with convictions), it will seek out international forums to get what it believes would be true justice.
With this political purity, Gush Shalom is causing great damage to public life in Israel – and harm to its own cause. Of all people, leftist peace activists are the ones who are needed to strengthen the press and to find ways to convince the public and encourage the state prosecutor and the legal system to investigate every problematic incident in the army. Putting the International Criminal Court – with all the problematics of its structure – above the state’s legal system is a blunt vote of no confidence in the institutions and public opinion in Israel.
The decision to send evidence to the international court in The Hague shows contempt for those who have not given up the continuing campaign for an end the occupation and for peace – people who also work under difficult conditions in the bitter conflict that has given birth to profound disappointment and a crisis in the left, but are interested in doing so in an open and legitimate political debate.
Handing over evidence to the international court will not inspire Israeli public opinion to turn against blatantly illegal orders given or executed in the territories. On the contrary, it could even achieve the opposite result.