The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has decided it will no longer submit complaints to the Israeli army regarding human rights violations by its soldiers. In an 81-page report titled “The Occupation's Fig Leaf: Israel’s Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism,” the Israeli nongovernmental organization reached the conclusion that their complaints to their own army are mostly a waste of time.
May 30, 2016
According to the B’Tselem report, since the second intifada, B’Tselem has reported 739 cases of grave human rights violations by the Israeli army. In 182 of them, no investigation was ever launched. The report also states that in nearly half the complaints filed (343), the investigation was closed with no further action. B’Tselem did say that in very rare instances (25 out 739), charges were brought against the implicated soldiers.
The Israeli organization’s conclusions were nothing new to Palestinian lawyers who have been working within the military system for decades. An American-Palestinian attorney who is a member of the New York bar and who has a license to practice in Israel told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the issue with Israel is that, for many years, people believed there was indeed justice, rule of law and an independent judiciary. “When Palestinians complained about human rights abuses, they were told, ‘If you had a legitimate complaint, why didn’t you go to the courts?’ That worked, as long as Israel had a positive reputation for rule of law.”
The US attorney who practiced law for many years in the Israeli military court system said that even though he gave it everything he could, he was unable to see justice. “My conclusion came after trying the system, and showing how it fails, and why it fails. It is not enough to believe the system produces no justice, unless you can show how and why it does so,” he said.
Buthaina Duqmaq, a Palestinian attorney from Al-Bireh, has been practicing law since 1988. She also told Al-Monitor that over the years she has seen how the Israeli military system has been deteriorating. She said, “All you have to do is look at the unreasonably high sentences given by these military judges to understand how absurd the system is.”
Duqmaq spends a lot of time with detained children and women prisoners and she is frustrated because of the absence of any shred of justice. She told Al-Monitor, “The entire military court system is rigged against Palestinians. From day one you understand clearly that you are not dealing with a neutral or fair court but a military apparatus that is totally opposed to Palestinians.”
Duqmaq, who runs the Ramallah-based Mandela Institute for Palestinian Prisoners, told Al-Monitor that she often feels she is doing social work rather than seeking justice. “Lawyers go to the military courts to provide social service to the prisoners, especially those who have no communications with their families,” she said.
Duqmaq added that the work of her organization is more humanitarian than legal: “I often feel that our organization, Mandela Institute, is more like the Red Cross. We are totally convinced that the courts are not a system of justice.”
Even while criticizing its lateness, Duqmaq praised the B’Tselem decision. “It is long overdue, but it is better to be late than never,” she said, reflecting on the hope that this important decision might bring international investigations into the current situation where there are summary executions and gross violations of human rights.
The New York-licensed lawyer, who requested not to be identified because of his constant travels in the Middle East, said that one argument against complaining to the Israeli authorities is the principle of complementarity. “The International Court of Justice only has jurisdiction once you exhaust local remedies, or show that there is really no legal remedy to be obtained by local courts,” said the lawyer who specializes in international law.
This argument was part of B’Tselem’s justification for their report. “These appearances also help grant legitimacy — both in Israel and abroad — to the continuation of the occupation. B’Tselem will no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system and will no longer refer complaints to it,” B’Tselem said in its report.
The failure of local recourse to address human rights violations appears to be of utmost importance regarding the workings of the International Criminal Court (ICC). According to the BBC website, the issue of lack of faith in local prosecution goes a long way in determining the jurisdiction of the ICC and its decision to initiate a war crime investigation. “It is a court of last resort, intervening only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute,” explained the BBC.
This is not what late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wanted to see in the occupied territories after the Oslo Accords were signed. Speaking to the political council of the Labor Party back on Oct. 2, 1993, immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accord and the famous Sept. 13, 1993, White House handshake with Yasser Arafat, Rabin explained that the Palestinian security forces would now be able to “deal with Gaza without problems caused by appeals to the High Court of Justice, without problems made by [the human rights organization] B’Tselem, and without problems from all sorts of bleeding hearts and mothers and fathers.”
While the Palestinian security forces have been beefed up partially in order to protect the Israelis, the military system that Israel established is still quite entrenched in the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian-American lawyer explained the importance of B’Tselem’s decision. “The value of B’Tselem’s report comes precisely because they have tried, honestly and diligently, to use the local process. They actually once even believed in it. Now when they announce they no longer do so, their pronouncement is far more valuable than that of Palestinian jurists who never had faith in the system and never tried to seriously use it, or test it or reveal its inadequacy,” he told Al-Monitor.
With the leading Israeli human rights organization losing faith in its own government and the Israeli judicial system, the legal and political conditions are set now for a strong intervention by the ICC. Maybe an investigation into war crimes that are made more possible by the B’Tselem decision will shake up Israelis and force them to deal with the ugly reality that their military occupation has created.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/israel-military-courts-complaints-human-rights-violations.html#ixzz4AFu9CQI8