A February 20 editorial by Haaretz calls a current stage of a High Court case in Israel “a small but important step”. In a petition against the state for trying out an anti-anthrax vaccine on 800 misinformed soldiers, the state has admitted that, “The defense establishment bears full responsibility for [their] care”. Hearings are still ongoing but Haaretz calls this an achievement already attained by the 34 plaintiffs, though the practical implementation of the declaration has yet to be proven.
Previously, the state denied responsibility as well as the causal link between the experiments and the (ex-)soldiers’ conditions. Obviously, it is only the activism of these young people that has achieved the admission. It’s a response, says Haaretz, “which does not evade a fundamental discussion of the question of experiments on human beings in general, and on IDF soldiers as a ‘captive audience’ in particular, [but] arouses hope that the defense establishment will finally grasp the importance of human rights.” Given the record of horrendous and ongoing IDF violations of the human rights of Palestinian and Lebanese people, this seems vastly overstated. Nevertheless, I think the case is important, among other things as an instance of the state’s abuse and indifferent exploitation of its own “captive audience”.
Though I believe each soldier to be individually accountable for her or his personal actions, soldiers are also young people placed at the disposal of the state by law and by a consenting society, including their parents. This social and parental consent implies a strong assumption that the state will deploy its captive conscripts with care, endangering them only if vitally necessary; refraining from the misuse, abuse or waste of their lives and health. As partly reflected in the rising numbers of young people who resist the draft, this assumption has been negated by a long series of incidents and practices in the military that have come to light in recent years in Israel.
Ranging from extremely severe to relatively minor, a tiny sample of these are the two cases below, coincidentally featured in Haaretz on just one day. One of them concerns pharmaceutical experimenting on soldiers, with grave health consequences; the other concerns exploitation of soldiers as a low-cost, skilled workforce, for private advancement. The first was conducted by and on behalf of the military establishment; the second was an alleged case of individual criminal misconduct. In an institution condoning and practicing the former, though, the inevitable, almost logical consequence would seem to be the latter.
Pertaining to “others” rather than “our own”, the last item is consistent with the state’s evasion of accountability and responsibility. In this case, though, more than one state was implicated. According to the BBC, in 2005, British police refrained from executing a warrant for the arrest of Doron Almog, formerly head of Israel’s southern military command, on charges of “the destruction of a home in Rafah . the killing of a nine-month pregnant woman in March 2003; the firing of a ‘Flechette’ antipersonnel shells at three Gaza youths and killing them in December 2001; and dropping a missile on a house in Gaza in July 2002, killing a senior Hamas man along with 14 Palestinian civilians”. The charges had been pressed by Palestinian activists. The report claims that UK police were afraid of “a shootout with Israeli security officials” and, moreover, that “the British foreign secretary issued an apology for the incident.”
While there’s a “gentlemen’s club” intact ensuring their impunity, whether in or outside the country, Israel’s top military officers and security officials can continue irresponsibly exploiting, abusing and violating the human rights of more than one kind of “captive audience”. I view the activism that challenges this, time and again, in many ways, as vital and sometimes effective in holding them accountable.
Experiments in full responsibility
By Haaretz Editorial
February 21, 2008 Adar1 15, 5768
The state’s response to a High Court of Justice petition by soldiers who were subjected to medical experiments with anti-anthrax drugs (the experiments known as Omer 2) is a small but important step on the road to regulating one of the most neglected human rights issues in Israel. Admittedly, the state – in contrast to the soldiers – claims that the experiments were performed in accordance with accepted medical and ethical norms, and that there was nothing wrong with them. Nevertheless, it also stated, “The defense establishment bears full responsibility for the care of the soldiers who were harmed.”
This announcement includes two important points: an admission of the causal link between the experiments and the damage to the soldiers’ health, and an assumption of full responsibility for the soldiers’ care and treatment.
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