Editorial View - By Asher Shla'in

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Firing By order

On Principles And Hypocrisy

Let us not deal now with the wisdom or morality of firing events that result in injuries or deaths. It is quite conceivable that an activity of security forces may be erroneous or even malicious - depending on the reasoning and the personal quality of the people involved. Yet, it is important that public debates on this issue shall be conducted logically and fairly. The public must not let particularistic and political interests be disguised as binding moral principles.

This subject deserves a comprehensive research (those that we know are quite inadequate) but in this brief article, I would like to share an approach that, in my mind, could serve clarity, as opposed to the hypocrisy and inaccuracy that characterize the prevalent public discourse.

Let me start by discussing the concept of the "black flag". The source of this expression is a court ruling in the case of the Kafr Kassem massacre. Civilians were put to death after being captured outdoors during a security curfew - of which they were not aware. That was an atrocious event carried out by members of an Israeli security force who relied on an order they apparently received. The presiding judge could not find at the time the legal grounds to convict them for the crime they committed by obeying an order, and he introduced the concept that an order cannot serve as an excuse for a blatantly appalling act. He described it as a "black flag" that waves above such an order.

Subsequent legislation provided that disobeying an illegal order is permissible, while obeying an order that is evidently illegal has become an offence. Indeed, it is clear that the deliberate murder of innocent civilians is evidently illegal - but not every illegal or improper action should be viewed as if a "black flag" is waving above it. This would cheapen the memory of the Kafr Kassem massacre, which should stay a disgraceful blemish in our history. As for those who use this expression in more trivial circumstances, such as any deviation from the rules of opening fire, or in cases of collateral damage in actual combat - I suspect that they have ulterior political motives.

Another contention was voiced: "The soldiers fired although there was no imminent danger to their lives". This odd assertion is repeated in a persuasive tone, leaving the public perplexed: Were these soldiers recruited for years of hard and perilous service just in order to defend their own lives? It is quite strange that nobody protests against this claim. "The value of Human Life" serves as a rationale to paralyze military activity, and it sometimes seems that the military legal authorities apply strict criteria even when weapons are used against enemy forces. I am not concerned here with legal analysis. After all, the legal system should serve our real values.

Obviously, war conditions are not suitable for strict observance of human rights. Whenever we kill an enemy soldier, it is quite likely that we hurt a good person, loved by his family and perhaps important to all humanity, who was sent to his mission by his country. His loss may be truly tragic, but this is the reality of war. For pacifists, this is the end of the story - they would not fight and one can respect their position. I for one choose to fight and share the responsibility for the killing, in a situation where other values overrule the value of "Human Life". Such values do exist!

Then what if war is not declared officially, when enemy combatants wear no uniform? What if they surround themselves, their bases and their facilities, with civilians? What if many of them deliberately attack peaceful population, taking advantage of our "instructions for opening fire"? Are their rights superior to those of soldiers and commanders in a regular enemy army?

And what if they are in retreat after committing or attempting a murder - is it forbidden to pursue and shoot them because the soldiers can get away alive? And what if "civilians" conduct a surveillance operation against us? What if they attack an outpost with just sticks and fists? Should we then surrender and leave the place? Yes, there are those among us who wish for this result - and thus weaken our chance to defend ourselves.

Asher Shla'in, 8/January/2004

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