Not in the Heat of Battle


Amos Gvirtz – TRANSCEND Media Service

16 May 2022 – Late at night and with a bloodcurdling symbolism, on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and six days after Holocaust Memorial Day, three justices of Israel’s High Court of Justice issued their heinous decision to allow the Israeli army to demolish eight Palestinian villages and expel their inhabitants, who currently live in Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills.

In this scandalous legal decision, might we understand from the High Court justices that the expulsion of Palestinians in the 1948 war did not happen in the heat of battle; rather, it was intentional. After all, for the 22 years this case has been litigated, not one of the various Israeli governments has ever refrained from the attempt to expel the inhabitants of the eight South Hebron Hills villages – and this not in the heat of battle, but as policy! At any point along the way they could certainly have changed this policy. And those who worked overtime to place right wing (and often settler) judges in the High Court know that legal cases are decided in accord with the ideological orientation of the judges.

The State of Israel did not enter a legal vacuum in regard to its policies in the territories it conquered in 1967. There of course exist internationally recognized wartime conventions which prohibit an occupying power from expanding its territory in the aftermath of conquest. There are human rights conventions which protect civilian populations in general and those under occupation. There is a clear prohibition on transferring populations to the occupied territory – all the settlements are illegal! There is a clear prohibition against causing harm to unprotected civilian populations in the occupied territory. The occupying power is forbidden to make use of the lands in the occupied territory except in cases of clear-cut security needs. Firing zones for military exercises do not fall into this category, and certainly settlements do not. There is a prohibition on the use of water and mineral quarries.

Nevertheless, the Israeli judicial system mobilized to provide legal cover for violations of international law. This is the framework in which the verdict was given that allowed the expulsion of the inhabitants of the eight villages. This decision opens the way for further expulsions in populated Palestinian areas where the Israeli army has proclaimed firing zones.

When the appointment of Israeli judges was based on their professional excellence, they were very cautious about legal manipulations that enabled the contravention of international law. Now that they are often chosen for their right-wing orientation, their verdicts are less cautious and more blatant.

Here a person who violates international law for ideological reasons and chooses to live in a settlement, is appointed to serve as a judge in Israel’s Supreme Court even though he lives outside the recognized borders of the country. He has no qualms about writing verdicts with ideological significance while embodying a conflict of interests which should disqualify him from sitting on the court as a judge. And then this judge determines that Israeli law has preference over international wartime conventions. If he were to accept that Israel should act according to the Fourth Geneva Conventions, then he would be declaring that he is violating the law and is unworthy to serve as a judge!

The Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949, which deal with the protection of civilians during war and under occupation, were written as a lesson from the Nazi war crimes committed against civilian populations under their occupation, exemplified most extremely in their annihilation of the Jews, to whom all protection was denied. The State of Israel signed and ratified its signature on the Conventions. And yet Israel’s High Court makes a scandalous decision to cancel the protections the Conventions grant to the civilian Palestinian population living under the Israeli occupation regime! The Israeli High Court of Justice has acted against one of the important lessons of the Holocaust, and has allowed the army to carry out a war crime!

In every judicial case, alongside the two sides fighting to prove the justice of their cause before the judges, the court itself is also judged. The question is asked whether the court is following the rules of morality and justice, or whether it is serving aims that oppose them. In its decision to deny the protections that the wartime conventions granted to civilian populations under occupation, and to enable their expulsion, the High Court of Justice has shown that it is a court which acts against morality and justice.


Amos Gvirtz is founder of Israelis and Palestinians for Nonviolence, was chairperson of the Committee against House Demolitions, and a peace and human rights activist. He is a former Israeli representative to the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and wrote the book, Don’t Say We Did Not Know. It is live in the Amazon store and is available for readers to purchase here. In Kindle you can read it for free.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 May 2022.

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