Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz 6/2/2003
[translated from the Hebrew printed edition by Adam Keller]
The arrest of Palestinian farmers by soldiers in the south Hebron region, described in this column a day before yesterday, was not an exceptional occurrence. Last Thursday, Hebron was invaded by infantry and tanks in numbers never seen before in that city since the beginning of the Intifada. On the same day, a full curfew was imposed on the city, too. On the evening of the same day, both channel 1 and Channel 2 of Israel TV repeatedly broadcast interviews with the commander of one of the invading forces - a lieutenant colonel identified by his first name, Eran, and by his function, commander of the "Shaham" Battalion.
Somebody had forgotten to tell this young officer that you should not tell the whole truth on TV; for example, not to reveal that such severe measures are not taken only out of direct operational needs, as the army and the political echelon officially claim. Speakers for the government of Israel repeatedly expressed their "rejection, with a feeling of disgust" of any assertion by human rights organizations or foreign governments that Israel is undertaking a deliberate policy of punishing innocent civilians. Yet here was Colonel Eran declaring: "We intend to put strong pressure on the population to make it expel the terrorists from its midst".
The leaders of "Gush Shalom" did not need anything more. Many months ago, they have sent to IDF officers letters warning them that one day they may find in their postboxes a summons to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. The IDF was quick to deny any assertion of war crimes being committed by its men, and Attorney General riposted by warning the peace activists of a criminal prosecution in Israel.
This time, Uri Avnery and Adam Keller directed themselves to General Menachem Finkelstein, the IDF's Judge-Advocate General. "From reports of the IDF operation in Hebron, published in the Israeli and international media" they wrote "as well as from the reports of human rights organizations and from what we heard directly from Hebron residents, we get a grave picture of acts, most of which are clearly designed for the purpose of hurting innocent civilians and severely hamper their daily life."
The letter describes how the streets of Hebron were blocked to traffic by digging up the roads and piling mounds of earth at distances of about a hundred metres from each other; the closing down of five local radio and TV stations; the invasion by soldiers of civil offices of the Palestinian Authority, dealing with civilian issues vital for the population; causing severe damage to computers and furniture at the PA offices and welding shut the doors; total destruction of Hebron's municipal vegetable market, with its more than a hundred stalls; and the destruction of 22 homes, leaving hundreds of people homeless.
"The combination of the explicit words of the officer and the testimonies from the ground clearly and unequivoally indicates a policy of collective punishment against a population of more than two hundred thousand inhabitants" write Avnery and Keller, noting that this is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory. They asked the Judge-Advocate General to make clear to the officer the severity of his acts and the consequences of taking public responsibility for the violation of International Law. Up to the time of publication, no reaction was available from the IDF Spokeperson.