The IDF whitewash too many investigations; time for international commission of inquiry

The gradual penetration of a lying culture, and the cover-up efforts by the Israeli military have increased. ■ There must be an independent international commission of inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

Yossi Melman (Translated by Sol Salbe)

Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett must hurry and announce today (Wednesday) their agreement to establish an independent international commission of inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, in Jenin. Official Israeli spokespeople have been claiming since this morning Abu Akleh was killed during an exchange of gunfire with Palestinian fighters, suggesting that she may have been accidentally shot by those fighters, but are unsure.

After some hesitation, Israel suggested that an investigation on behalf of the IDF (headed by the commander of the commando brigade, Colonel Meni Liberati) be conducted jointly with the Palestinian Authority. The PA has declined the suggestion* this and this raises suspicion. If the Palestinians have nothing to hide — they should not be afraid of the results of the examination, even if they wouldn’t be pleased by and it wouldn’t serve the narrative that they have already established, according to which Shireen Abu Akleh was shot by IDF forces.

In the same breath, those responsible for the Hasbara policy in the government and the IDF are also suspect. Past experience shows that IDF officers are not always accurate in their statements and provide the IDF Spokesperson office with deceitful accounts. For its part the IDF Spokesperson accepts such accounts as sort of a holy gospel. This happens during the initial investigation in the field, after a shooting incident or accident, but it also happens over time, during in-depth investigations, when it is already possible to thoroughly investigate the truth. The failure to tell the truth in the IDF is especially evident in the reactions to the killing of Palestinians and in relation to violent settlers and lawbreakers.

It must be said that during the tenure current IDF Chief of staff Kokhavi the cover-up efforts have increased. So those involved have collaborated in presenting a common version of events and the superficial investigations whose purpose was to go through the motions. The distortion of the truth regarding Palestinians, whose lives are considered less worthy in the defence establishment and in significant sections of the Israeli public, has also penetrated the investigations into the deaths of Israeli soldiers or civilians. My colleague, Yaniv Kubovich, has in recent years specialised in exposing such bit-choosy investigations. The riddle of the death of Captain T, [Tome Eiges] the intelligence officer who was found dead in mysterious circumstances in a military prison, is also a clear example of this.

The IDF, like other bureaucratic organisations that operate as a guild or alternatively under a trade union, has a tendency to line up as one, present a common position and weed out any alternative opinion, view or fact that does not match what it seeks to present as absolute truth. Under no circumstances should we condone the continuation of the gradual penetration of a lying culture into the IDF. Admittedly, this is not yet extended to the same degree as lying culture in the police, but every drip eventually turns into a flood. Lying has no boundaries and has a tendency to spread.

Journalism is a dangerous profession. Journalists who go to conflict and war zones know this well. Since the Russian army invaded Ukraine more than two months ago, 14 journalists and other media professionals have been killed. In Mexico, 11 journalists were murdered in the first five months of the year. The deaths of journalists in the line of duty are not superior or more majestic than the deaths of civilians in wars or war zones, but there are clear international norms that journalists should not be the target of killing or extermination. First respondents and aid workers are entitled to similar immunity.

In the past, Palestinian journalists and photographers were killed by IDF fire. This had not reverberated because they were “only Palestinians.” Shireen Abu Akleh was Palestinian, but she also held American citizenship and worked for an international network owned by Qatar. Therefore, her death gained interest and presents Israel with a problem. The fog surrounding the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s death will not disperse even if the IDF presents conclusive evidence that she was killed by Palestinian fire. An impartial international commission of inquiry is required here, and it would be good if a journalist body with an international reputation (for example, Reporters Without Borders were to participate. If Israel has nothing to hide, it must even push for such a commission.

*Since this was published, Haaretz has reported that the Palestinians say that the offer from the IDF was never made to them.

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