Last week, the Haifa District Court rejected the suit by the parents of Rachel Corrie, an activist whom an Israeli army bulldozer ran over in 2003. The judge accepted all of the army's claims, despite the fact that it was uncovered during the trial that an IDF general, Doron Almog, subverted the Criminal Investigative Division’s probe by ordering the bulldozer's driver to say nothing to his interrogators. The US Embassy in Israel slammed the decision, saying the investigation was "shallow" and "insufficient." The judge also wrote that the organization Corrie belonged to, ISM (International Solidarity Movement), though using non-violent methods to thwart IDF actions, was "practically violent."
The cavalier disregard for Corrie's life by an Israeli court is not surprising. As the 23-year-old Corrie from Olympia, Wash., became a cause célèbre for the Palestinians, the trial regarding her death drew media attention, even nine years after the events; many other victims were less fortunate.
One of Corrie's colleagues, Tom Hurndall, was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, Taysir Hayb, some two months after Corrie's death. He was killed while trying to convey children who were caught in the IDF's crossfire to safety. His family, and the British Foreign Ministry, mounted an effective campaign, and the IDF was forced to try Hayb; he was convicted by an IDF court of manslaughter and obstruction of justice. A British inquest jury found in 2006 that Hurndall was unlawfully killed. The IDF sentenced Hayb to eight years in prison — and released him in 2010, after Hayb served five of them.
Noted filmmaker James Miller was shot and killed by an IDF sniper a month after Hurndall. Miller was shot twice, while carrying a white flag in Rafah. The IDF first claimed he was shot in the back, and then retreated from that claim. It kept claiming Miller was shot during an "exchange of fire"; no other witness recalled any such exchange. The IDF would later close the inquiry, saying it had no proof the soldier who shot at Miller actually fired the deadly shot. Apparently, the IDF is unfamiliar with forensic ballistics.
And if the IDF is lenient toward its soldiers when they kill international activists and journalists, it is much more lenient when it comes to Palestinian lives: few, if any, of the incidents ending in death of Palestinians are seriously investigated. In March 2010, a group of soldiers killed two Palestinians near Nablus; the soldiers claimed the Palestinians charged them with a pitchfork. None was found at the scene, and the soldiers then changed their version and claimed they were attacked with a broken bottle and a syringe. None were indicted.
In January 2011, soldiers in a well-entrenched position near Tubas opened fire at a Palestinian they later claimed was holding a broken bottle. He was holding a non-broken soft drink bottle, according to witnesses, including other soldiers. No one was indicted.
In a rare case of an indictment, two Givati Brigade soldiers were convicted in November 2010 of misbehavior during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, in early 2009. The two soldiers entered a house containing several boxes and crates, which they thought were booby-trapped, and forced a 9-year-old Palestinian child to open them at gunpoint. For using a child as a human mine sweeper, they received three months' suspended sentence – and their cries of outrage echoed all over the Hebrew web.
Recently, the military prosecution reached a plea bargain in the case of a soldier who, again during Operation Cast Lead, fired at a group of Palestinians who were advancing under a white flag. Two women were killed, but, again, the prosecution couldn't decide whether the soldier killed them or not. He was charged with "killing an anonymous person"; he ended up convicted of illegal usage of a weapon, and received a sentence of 45 days in prison.
In 2010, an IDF lieutenant colonel, Omri Burberg, was on trial for ordering his NCO, Leonardo Koriah, to shoot a blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian in the foot with a rubber bullet in Na’alin on the West Bank. The colonel tried to hide the incident and refrained from reporting it; it was, unfortunately for him, captured on video. The army, forced to act, tried to indict him for conduct unbecoming; the High Court of Justice forced it to charge Burberg and Koriah with a more severe charge. When the dust settled, Burberg was convicted of attempted threatening of the prisoner and conduct unbecoming; Koriah was convicted of illegal usage of a weapon and conduct unbecoming.
In all of these incidents, and many others, the army was trying to defend its personnel. There are several reasons for that. For starters, the army is worried morale may plummet if it puts its soldiers in the dock. A second reason is that many soldiers, when interrogated, threaten to open a Pandora's box and tell many unpleasant stories, implicating senior officers. The most recent case was that of the notorious "Captain George" (see Hebrew document), real name Doron Zehavi, an IDF investigator who was kicked out of the service because of his penchant for torture; he was suspected of, for instance, raping prisoners with a baton. In an interview in February 2012, Zehavi openly threatened to reveal what he knows about torture by other IDF investigators, if the army won't compensate him — preferably with a job abroad. At the time, he was working as "Arab Affairs Adviser" for the Jerusalem police.
But the third reason is more important: The army draws more and more soldiers from the religious and settler segments of society, as liberal Jews try to avoid service (or at least combat service), and it has to conform to their desires. This often means socially excluding female soldiers, as religious soldiers openly refuse to hear them sing — or even talk. But, more often, it means turning a blind eye to violence toward non-Jews.
As Jewish Israel becomes more and more religious, it is becoming more and more intolerant toward any prosecution of soldiers — or, for that matter, civilians — who are accused of brutalizing or killing non-Jews. The Israeli web basically celebrated the verdict in the Corrie case, as it did in several similar cases. As far as a great many Jews, particularly young ones, are concerned, if you are a non-Jew in Israel or its occupied territories, you have no rights. Particularly if you dare criticize Israel or its policies.
Corrie's death is possibly the most famous incident in which the IDF soldiers killed an innocent noncombatant. It shows, again, the unwillingness of the Israeli judicial system — both military and civilian — to rein in the military, and to force fire discipline upon it.
This ensures more incidents like those listed above will follow. And, which should worry the military more, it increases the likelihood of failure: a military formation which does not enforce discipline, particularly when engaged in civilian areas, is not an army; at best it is a high-tech militia. The lack of discipline will not stop at the edge of the battlefield. In an age when the media is prevalent, when any person can become a broadcasting station, this significantly increases the chances of defeat.
The army knows this; it has repeatedly spoken of a "strategic corporal" scenario, in which a misguided action by a minor NCO either draws the army into a battle it does not want, or turns a tactical victory into a PR or strategic defeat. It knows that unnecessary violence is the best recruiting agent its enemies can have. It has been speaking of it since the First Intifada, some 25 years now.
Yet it does little to nothing to solve this problem, trying not to offend its soldiers. And, as it caves in to them, it ensures the problem will not be solved.
Yossi Gurvitz is an Israeli journalist and blogger, writing in English mainly for +972 Magazine.