Target Peace

Sharon orders probe of Israeli rights group

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As the Israel defense forces mount endless incursions into the Occupied Territories, Israeli human rights groups have certainly had their work cut out for them. But not many of them have ended up under the scrutiny afforded peace group Gush Shalom.Last week the organization was roundly denounced as traitorous by Ariel Sharon in a blast of publicity. Its sin? Like other observer groups, Gush Shalom collects information and monitors Israeli military activities. But unlike other rights advocates, it threatens to take the evidence it has collected to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

This is what’s rattling the government and sending waves of insecurity through its defence force. Sharon even went so far as to instruct his attorney general to attempt legal steps to ban Gush Shalom.

In February and March, the group wrote letters to 15 Israeli officers informing them that they were being monitored by “Gush Shalom’s team for the collection of evidence against war criminals.” Most of the evidence came from media interviews given by the officers after their incursions into Palestinian territory.

Gush Shalom spokesperson Adam Keller says letters were written to officers who, among other things, occupied a Palestinian village for allegedly harbouring militants, fired tear gas at an elderly man and arrested the families of suspected militants.

Keller says they didn’t continue with the letters after the full-scale Israeli occupation of the territories in the spring, because “it seemed pointless to pick just this or that detail out of the flood of human rights violations” and because “the officers stopped being so talkative.”

Keller points out that the IDF recently implemented a new policy forbidding officers to speak openly to the media, and if they do they can’t give their full name.

He can only speculate about why the letters have caught the government and the media’s attention now, when six months ago nobody seemed interested. “It is known that some officers are now afraid of travelling to European countries, where they might be arrested,” says Keller. “And that is exactly why what we have done has created such a big fear and so much hostility.”

In an editorial Tuesday, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz wrote that while Gush Shalom has every right to monitor the military’s operations, it should present its allegations of wrongdoing to internal authorities, not the international court. But Gush Shalom’s response to the editorial argued that the organization did send copies of the letters to “the military prosecution, to the army chief of staff and the minister of defence,” and nothing was done.

Despite Sharon’s latest call for an investigation, Israel’s AG has been aware of the Gush Shalom letters for months, but hasn’t taken any action.

“Sharon’s call for an investigation was a recommitment,” says Jason Muscant, a spokesperson at the Israeli embassy in Ottawa. “The investigation hasn’t really stopped.”

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