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“The IDF is not a state within the state” - Another Gush court victory

The Gush Shalom petition to the Supreme Court achieved today (July 12, 2010) another victory.

For the first time in Israel’s history, the court has decided to intervene in the government’s appointment of a commission of inquiry, something the court has refused to do many times in the past.

The court has also practically decided that army officers can be summoned to testify before the inquiry commission, in spite of the objections of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazy, if the commission demands it. In its peculiar language, the Supreme Court told the government that in this case, the court will compel the soldiers to testify.

It will be remembered that immediately after the appointment of the Turkel commission, the Gush applied to the Supreme Court of Justice, demanding to dismantle the commission and to appoint a real State Commission of Inquiry. Just before this petition was heard by the court, the Netanyahu-Barak government gave in and decided to turn the Turkel commission into a full-fledged Government Commission of Inquiry according to the law, thus significantly enlarging its powers. However, the government also decided that the commission would not be entitled to summon “soldiers” (meaning senior officers).

But the Gush did not give up. On its behalf, advocate Gaby Lasky submitted a paper arguing that according to law, a government commission of inquiry is empowered to summon everybody is sees fit, without the government being able to exclude anybody.

The court accepted this argument in practice and proposed to both sides a “compromise”: if the Turkel commission will decide to summon military people and the government refuses – the court will decide on the matter. This was a clear hint: in such case, the court will compel the officers to testify.

The next steps now depend on the Turkel commission: it will have to decide whether it wants to interrogate military people or not. As Advocate Lasky argued, the commission cannot really fulfill its official task – investigate whether the attack on the flotilla was legal under international law – without interrogating the military about the planning of the action, the alternatives that presented themselves, the intelligence at its proposal and actual carrying out of the mission. General Eiland, the army investigator who presented his findings this week (“the army investigates itself”), did not deal with this aspect.

The Gush representatives accepted the “compromise” immediately, but the government lawyers lingered for hours. It can be assumed that they consulted with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff. After several hours, they also gave their assent.

After this hearing, a Gush Shalom delegation proceeded to the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, where the police demand to prolong the arrest of Muhammad Abu Ter was being heard. The government wants to expel Abu Ter and three of his colleagues, elected members of the Palestinian Parliament, from East Jerusalem.

Gush activists Uri Avnery and Yehoshua Rosin succeeded in getting into the small courtroom, as a gesture of solidarity with Abu Ter against his expulsion. The first contact with Abu Ter was established after his election, when a Gush delegation met him for a political discussion at his home. Soon after, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison, and only recently released. Now the governments wants to expel them, pretending that they are “staying illegally” in Israel.

Coming out of the hearing, Avnery stated: “This is a monstrous distortion of the law. The phrase ’staying illegally’applies to foreigners who come to Israel illegally and can be expelled. Abu Ter and his colleagues were born in Jerusalem, their families have been in East Jerusalem for centuries, they have no other lodgings and no other identity cards. They did not come to Israel, Israel came to them.”