Suck it and see: the ice lolly of military impunity in Israel

To me it’s one of those annoying – almost childish – examples of political bluster beloved by political leaders the world over – we’re the best, that’s it. Best army, best legal system, best food, best climate. Best, superior, superlative.

"I still say we have the most moral army in the world. Of course there may be exceptions but I have absolutely no doubt this will be inspected on a case-by-case basis". So says Israel’s defence minister Ehud Barak, as the revelations about callous killings by soldiers during Israel’s Gaza campaign emerged yesterday.

Barack’s rearguard “most moral” claim aside, what the Israeli infantrymen and pilots have been saying amounts to a real bombshell.

How moral is this? (1) A soldier cold-bloodedly shooting a mother and her children dead. (2) An elderly woman shot dead crossing the road. (3) Everything from fridges to plates and furniture being thrown out of the windows of Palestinian houses by Israeli soldiers, who took them over as sniper positions and then scrawled hate messages on the walls before they left.

And we’re apparently talking about a military operation where there weren’t just so-called “permissive” rules of engagement, but of cases where – according to what the young guys in the tanks and carrying the weapons have been saying – the IDF soldiers were ordered to kill people who posed no risk to them.

Naturally, as the ubiquitous Mark Regev was saying on Channel 4 News last night, the Israeli authorities will look into it. An “investigation” is spoken about. Reassuring? Er, no. Israel’s investigations into the alleged wrongdoing of its military forces are notoriously weak. It took an exceptionally hard-fought campaign from Tom Hurndall’s family, for example, to get (some) justice in his case. But that was a rarity.

Hurndall’s case was one of the very, very few ever investigated and prosecuted. It’s a classic case of what Amnesty usually terms “enjoying impunity”. Or what many people call: getting away with murder. (Enjoying impunity! Are you enjoying that ice lolly? Yes, but not half as much as I’m enjoying this sense of impunity?)

But these startling new claims – splashed all over the Israeli media – have snatched that tasty impunity lolly away from the Israeli military for a few moments. So now is exactly the right time for people to back Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson’s (and Amnesty’s) call for an independent war crimes investigation into the Gaza conflict.

Or are we going to end up being suckered again?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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