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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Protecting soldiers from outside challenges

Yesterday, YNet ran a Reuters dispatch on a meeting that took place among British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister Haim Ramon and senior legal and defense officials. The topic of the meeting was the possible extradition to the UK of Israeli soldiers involved in the killings of International Solidarity Movement human shield Tom Hurndall, and British filmmaker James Miller.

According to the Wikipedia article linked above,
on April 11, 2003, Hurndall was shot in the head by an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) sniper, Taysir Hayb, and suffered irreversible brain damage, dying from his wound a year later.

In April 2003, IDF soldiers were on a mission in the Gaza border town of Rafah. Hurndall and a group of 'activists' were in the area, having planned to set up a "peace tent" on one of the nearby roads to blockade IDF tank patrols. At an IDF checkpoint on April 11, the IDF claims it came under fire from Palestinian gunmen and returned fire, causing Hurndall's group of nine activists to abandon their protest and seek cover. Hurndall then ran out into the street and was shot in the head by an IDF soldier. According to ISM and Palestinian witnesses, he had run out into the street to try to lead three Palestinian children to safety. The head wound put him into a coma in which he would remain for the remaining nine months of his life.

On June 27, 2005, Sergeant Taysir al-Heib was convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness.

On August 11, 2005, al-Heib was sentenced to eight years in prison by a military court. [Note - I edited this summary slightly. CiJ]

In April of this year, a British court decided that Hurndall had been murdered. Hurndall's family believes that Sergeant al-Heib, who confessed to the shooting and to attempting to cover it up, is being 'scapegoated' for higher-ups in the IDF, whom Hurndall's family would like to bring to trial. They also believe that the eight-year sentence that al-Heib received is 'inadequate.' The IDF prosecutor had requested a twenty-year sentence.

For those of you who don't know about the International Solidarity movement, here's what their opponents have to say about them:

The ISM is a movement composed of American anarchists and communists, neo-Nazis and Arab militants, social misfits and plain old anti-Semites all working in unison, or "solidarity" as they call it, to try to dismantle the Jewish democracy in the Middle East that is Israel.

They do this in a program modeled partly after the old ComIntern system of the Communist party USA and with help from PLO and Saudi propaganda ministries. They masquerade as a "peace movement" and "peace activists" when they are in fact a revolutionary war movement opposed not only to Israel but the United States itself. Allied organizations such as International ANSWER and the International Socialist Organization that belong to the ISM advocate the violent overthrow of the US government.

The movement was started when Palestinian Arab communists and radicals educated in the West hit on an idea to mobilize other communists on how to work together to fight the USA and its "proxy" in their mind, Israel. For western communists this meant money coming from wealthy Arab oil sheiks. The PLO/ Communist Revolutionary tactics and dogma from the past would now be combined with the worst Arab propaganda and money to produce an arm of the PLO's "revolution" called the ISM to destroy Israel. America will come next.

The ISM has shielded terrorists. The ISM claims to be 'non-violent,' but shielding terrorists is anything but non-violent. While they recognize the Palestinians' right to 'armed struggle' - in other words, they give terrorism against Israelis a pass - they claim that they personally only use 'non-violent' techniques to achieve their aims. The IDF was in Rafah to destroy unoccupied homes that were being used as terminus points for weapons smuggling tunnels.

According to the Wikipedia summary linked above, James Miller was a Welsh cameraman, producer, and director. He often worked with Saira Shah, with whom he set up an independent production company called Frostbite Productions in 2001.

It is alleged that he was killed by the Israel Defense Forces on May 2, 2003 while filming a documentary in Rafah. This documentary was entitled Death In Gaza, and was released by HBO in 2004. The film depicts Miller and his colleagues leaving the home of a Palestinian family in the Rafah refugee camp after dark, carrying a white flag. They had walked about 20 meters from the veranda when the first shot rings out. For 13 seconds, there is silence broken only by Saira’s cry: "We are British journalists." Then comes the second shot, which killed James. He was shot in the front of his neck. The bullet was Israeli issue, fired, according to a forensic expert, from less than 200 meters away. Immediately after the shooting, the IDF said that James had been shot in the back during crossfire. It later retracted the incorrect assertion about him being shot in the back. There was no crossfire according to some witnesses and [according to the Wikipedia article CiJ] there is none to be heard on the APTN tape.

Rafah has been the scene of violence throughout more than four years of fighting. An IDF spokesman described the circumstances of his death as occurring during "an operation taking place at night, in which the [Israeli] force was under fire and in which the force returned fire with light weapons." The army has expressed regret over the incident and pointed out that the Briton had "knowingly enter[ed] a combat zone". [Emphasis mine. CiJ]


On March 9, 2005, the IDF announced the closing of the Miller case, announcing that the soldier believed responsible for the shooting would not be indicted. The army said military police had carefully investigated the incident but had been unable to establish the soldier's guilt. "The findings of the military police show that an Israel Defense Forces lieutenant, the commanding officer of the IDF force at the site, allegedly fired his weapon in breach of IDF Rules of Engagement," a statement said. "However, it is not legally possible to link this shooting to the gunshot sustained by Mr. Miller." The army did say that the soldier would be disciplined for misusing his weapon. It did not elaborate.

IDF spokesman, Captain Jacob Dallal claims as IDF forces found terrorist weapons tunnel at the house, an anti-tank missile was fired at them when the IDF, under fire, shot back at the source of the attack. "James Miller was apparently hit during that exchange. That is when "he died after being evacuated by IDF soldiers for treatment." The Israeli military expresses sorrow at a civilian death, but it must be stressed that a cameraman who knowingly enters a combat zone, especially at night, endangers himself."[Emphasis mine. CiJ]

Here too, a British court has found that Miller was 'murdered'.

In each case, the Israeli government cannot extradite soldiers to foreign countries to stand trial for alleged crimes committed during the course of their duties in the IDF. Soldiers who join the IDF have no expectation of being called to foreign courts for their actions and would have no resources with which to defend themselves in foreign countries. Israel cannot allow itself to be compliant to foreign courts' desire to bring Israelis before them for actions that took place in Israel. Israel is a western country with an adversarial court system. It is not a third-world dictatorship where no expectation of a fair trial is possible, a situation that might at least justify other countries taking the situation into hand. In fact, as noted above, the soldier who shot Hurndall has been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in jail.

Moreover, 'activists' who insert themselves into combat zones - particularly at night - are assuming the risk of whatever harm may befall them. Both Hurndall and Miller went willingly to Rafah and knew exactly what they were getting into.

Israeli soldiers risk their own lives to avoid injuring bystanders, even when the bystanders are not entirely innocent. For Israel not to stand behind its soldiers - all the more so to actively deport them to foreign countries - would have a devastating effect on the IDF's morale. The fact that Livni and Ramon are apparently considering producing soldiers for trials in the British court system in the two incidents in question is unjustified and harmful to Israel's security.


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