JERUSALEM (Oct. 6)
The three members of the commission of inquiry that will shortly begin its investigation of Israel’s role, if any, in the west Beirut massacre, represent in many ways, a cross-section of Israeli society.
Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan, President of the Supreme Court, who will chair the panel, is devoutly Orthodox and an old-time settler, having come to Palestine before World War II. Of the two men he appointed to the commission, Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak is of secular background and a post-war immigrant; and Gen. (res.) Yonah Efrat is a native-born Israeli and career army officer.
Kahan, born in Brody, Galicia, was graduated from the Jewish gymnasium (high school) and from the law school in Lwow, Poland. At the age of 22 he was qualified as a “magister of law” and also held an economics degree. He settled in Palestine in 1935 and was licensed to practice law there in 1940. In 1950 he became a magistrate in Haifa and three years later a district court judge in that city. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1970 and was elevated to its presidency early this year.
Kahan is described by his intimates as “very taciturn and very wise.” He is considered a jurist of the highest stature and integrity. At the age of 69, his tenure in the Supreme Court will soon end. When he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 he will step down.
Barak, 46, was born in Kovno, Lithuania. He escaped death in the Holocaust when, at the age of 8, he was smuggled out of the Kovno ghetto in a sack. He settled in Palestine in 1947, combining law studies with military service. He was graduated from the Hebrew University Law School at 22. He also studied economics and international relations.
Barak received a doctorate in law in 1963 and was elected Dean of the Law School in 1974. He rose to national prominence a year later when the then Minister of Justice, Haim Zadok, asked him to serve as Attorney General During his three years in that post he earned the reputation of a tough prosecutor, handling cases involving such prominent personalities as Asher Yadlin, MK Shmuel Rechtman and former Premier Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah.
In 1978, shortly after his elevation to the Supreme Court, Premier Menachem Begin appointed Barak to the Israeli delegation to the Camp David negotiations. He played a key role there drafting the accords with President Carter and Egyptian lawyer-diplomat Osama el-Baz.
Efrat, 56, began his military career in 1948. He retired from the army in 1977 after serving as commander of the central command and enrolled in a university. At present he is manager of a government-owned oil transport company.
Efrat always shied away from publicity and was little known outside of army ranks. His reputation among soldiers was one of great professional skills and impeccable integrity.