Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: A Whistleblower?

Apr 27, 2010 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

A Whistleblower?

The reporting of Israel’s Anat Kamm affair in Australia was a mixed bag, with a fair amount of sensationalism in many cases. Hopefully, those paying attention were able to absorb the following key details which correct the more sensationalist versions of the story: Anat Kamm was not a journalist but a serving soldier when she stole hundreds of highly secret army documents. She was not “disappeared”, she was placed under house arrest pending her trial for stealing official secrets. Haaretz’s Uri Blau, to whom Kamm gave the documents, is not in legal trouble for failing to reveal his sources – he is in trouble because he broke an agreement with Israeli law enforcement that he himself consented to that he would return all classified documents. If he hadn’t, he would be legally free and clear.

However, it is still being widely assumed, based on claims by Haaretz, that this was a case of legitimate “whistle-blowing,” exposing illegal behaviour by the IDF command. Haaretz maintains that, as claimed in an article by Blau in November 2008, some of Kamm’s documents expose the targeted killing in 2007 of wanted Islamic Jihad members in violation of the rules for such killings laid down by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2006.

What has not been widely reported is that Haaretz’s claim that the documents shows such behaviour are both strongly contested and open to considerable doubt.

Well-known Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini, from the rival Israeli paper Maariv, has reviewed the documents Haaretz relied on to make this claim and points out that the interpretation of them given in Blau’s Haaretz reporting seems to misrepresent the documents, the Supreme Court ruling or both. (Yemini’s translated Maariv article has now been republished by the Jerusalem Post and can be read at

Haaretz focused on a line in the orders which, with respect to three specific Islamic Jihad leaders, gave troops “permission to open fire in accordance with their appraisal of the situation during the operation.” Blau claimed this showed that the IDF intended to kill, not arrest, the wanted terrorists despite clear statements elsewhere that the object was to arrest if possible. Yemini shows that, in context, this only applied if the individuals were armed and fought back. Indeed, according to both the IDF and Islamic Jihad, this was what happened with both Islamic Jihad members who were killed in the operation. Yemini also shows the orders had strong rules against endangering civilians, which, contrary to Haaretz’s claims, fully met the Supreme Court’s requirement that any risks to civilians meet “proportional standards”.

Moreover, the legality of the IDF’s operations had already been vindicated by a very authoritative source. Following the publication of the original story in Haaretz, lawyers representing an Israeli NGO went to Israel’s Attorney-General, Menachem Mazuz, demanding an investigation of the killings. In Israel, the Attorney-General is not a minister or politician but a completely independent, and very powerful, legal official who heads both the judiciary and the office of public prosecutions. After looking at the issue, Mazuz wrote back to the NGO in Jan. 2009, denying an investigation, and stating (in a letter recently publicly released):

The IDF operation met all the conditions laid down in the [Supreme Court] ruling regarding ‘targeted assassinations.’ The attack took place after the possibility of arresting the fugitives was ruled out as being impossible to achieve under the circumstances and after it was made clear to the soldiers that arrest was the first preference. The attack was aimed at senior and extremely dangerous terrorists, who were involved in preparations to carry out dangerous terror attacks, and regarding whom the security system had reliable and precise information… It was carried out in awareness of the duty to avoid harming innocents… and after implementing the principle of proportionality.

In other words, Israel’s highest public prosecutor has already examined Haaretz’s claims about the documents and denied they indicate even a prima facie case that the IDF’s operation was illegal.

Peace Processing as a “Religion”

Aaron David Miller was perhaps the most long serving and dedicated US peace process official of the 1990s, serving a series of US secretaries of state as a Middle East adviser. He has now written, in Foreign Policy, what is essentially a recantation of what he calls a “sort of peace-process religion”.

The “catechism” of this religion he identifies is as follows: “First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, US interest in the region… second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.” He says that while he used to be a believer in this “religion”, he no longer is.

I want to bring Miller’s new work to readers’ attention because it not only says many perceptive things about regional realities (for an example, see p. 5), but also because it calls attention to a major attitudinal barrier to moving peace closer. The international conventional wisdom, represented in Washington by Miller’s peace process “religion”, often prevents people from analysing dispassionately or taking seriously the real barriers to peace, much less thinking seriously about the means to overcome them. Miller and other well-meaning peace processors became too addicted to maintaining the “process” when this was arguably not the optimum way forward. (Fellow peace processor Martin Indyk confesses something similar, in milder form, in his recent book Innocent Abroad.)

The goal of “peace processing” remains correct, a lasting two-state peace, but a blind commitment to maintaining “process” destroys the ability to step back and dispassionately assess what is really needed for that goal to be achieved. I would argue, as Miller does, that some similar mistakes are now being made by the Obama team which are unfortunately making peace more distant.



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