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Transformative Justice: Israeli Identity on Trial (Law, Meaning, and Violence)

jan peczkis|Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This work describes and analyzes the trails of Kastner, Eichmann, Yigal Amir, and the killers at Kufr Qassem. (Yigal Amir was the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995).

I focus on several items of broad-based interest.

This work has unmentioned implications. The 1949 Lomza trial (in an atmosphere of rampant Communist terror), which "established" Polish guilt for Jedwabne, had arguably not been a show trial. Even if so, it does not matter. The political agenda of the Communists was behind it anyway. Pointedly, author Leora Bilsky, a Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University, evaluated below, and, while not mentioning Jedwabne, dispenses with the myth of the necessity of show trials in order to advance political agendas.

----The following, except for the all-caps titles, are direct quotes. The first quote is of Richard J. Bernstein, and the remainder are of Leora Bilsky.----


Normally, we think of "political trials" in a negative manner, as "show trials" in which legal procedures are a mere façade concealing the cynical use of brute power. But one of the most provocative features of Bilsky's study is its defense of the legitimacy and importance of political trials. Political trials need not be "show trials"...Its purpose is to foster a transformation in the collective consciousness of a people. (p. vi).


The events leading to this extraordinary trial took place on 29 October 1956 on the eve of the Sinai war. A battalion of the Israeli Border Police was ordered to enforce an unusually early curfew that had been imposed on the Arab villages of the so-called little triangle near the border with Jordan…In one of the villages, Kufr Qassem, a massacre occurred. Upon their return home, in the hour between 5:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M., forty-nine villagers, including men, women, elderly people, and children, were killed in cold blood. (p. 169).

The military forces first tried to cover up the incident. But when news of the massacre reached Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ben-Gurion, he ordered an internal inquiry. On 12 December 1956, Ben-Gurion addressed the Knesset, condemning the massacre as a “dreadful atrocity,” and the ban on publication was lifted. (p. 180).

His [Judge Col. Benjamin Halevi’s] narrative broke down a massacre that lasted about an hour into small episodes, which were described minutely in chronological order. The plot advanced from random shooting at vehicles to the removal of the victims from the vehicles, the act of lining them up and executing them by firing squad, and finally the individual shooting of the injured to “assure” that they were dead. (p. 188).


This was the first time that the Arab victims of brutal violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers were heard on a public stage, forcing the Israeli public to confront the collapse of the moral code as revealed in the massacre. (p. 15).

…the way in which human beings could be reduced to statistical numbers and murdered in cold blood ([Maj. Shmuel] Melinki reported “4 down”, “15 down,” and “many down”). (p. 189).

Against the inhuman order of Colonel Shadmi to "kill without sentiments" the judge posited the "human heart" as the moral guide that could tell the soldier where to draw the line beyond which obedience should not be given absolute priority. (p. 190).

The issue of refusal to obey and illegal order in this case never reached the court. (p. 313).

Until the 1990's the Kufr Qassem massacre was not taught in Israeli schools but only in military courses during discussions on the limitations of obeying an illegal order. (p. 196).
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