Experts: Concerns over Gaza op prosecutions justified
Israeli legal officials say international lawsuits may indeed ensue Operation Cast Lead. 'Every Israeli involved in the fighting is subject to prosecution anywhere in the world,' warns top litigator. 'We can sue Hamas for rocket fire,' adds former deputy JAG
Top Israeli legal experts said Thursday that the recent concerns suggesting Israeli diplomats and military officials may find themselves facing legal action over the Israeli offensive in Gaza were justified.
Many human rights groups have already announced they would demand top Israeli officials be tried for war crimes in European courts.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said recently that Israel was preparing for a slew of international lawsuits following Operation Cast Lead; and Jerusalem has even issued a travel advisory for top IDF officials, urging them to refrain from visiting several European countries.
"If (Foreign Minister Tzipi) Livni wishes, I can recommend several good lawyers in Belgium," said attorney Avigdor Feldman Thursday. "The fighting in Gaza was too reminiscent of Bosnia. People there were tried for shooting at civilians, schools and UN facilities after that, so the concerns are justified."
Every Israeli involved in the Gaza campaign, he added, is subject to prosecution anywhere in the world. "There is no immunity in cases of war crimes and I personally know of elements in London that are gathering every possible evidence in order to build such cases.
"The law is on (the prosecutors') side. I would highly recommend any soldier or officer contemplating going to the UK to reconsider."
The Rules of War, he explained, are anchored by international law: "There are several countries which can have one arrested and tried for war crimes. We are not talking about places like Iran and Syria, but about countries with proper courts. If Livni knew civilians were targeted she should stand trial.
"Israel… cannot do as it pleases simply because the Judge Advocate General decided it wouldn’t be looking into the deaths of civilians."
'Criminals belong in jail'Attorney Michael Sefarad, who specialized in international law, said that we must remember that the entire mechanism of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague was put in place after World War II and the Holocaust, at the Jewish people's demand.
"The notion that some acts cannot be committed even in a time of war and that war criminals cannot find refuge anywhere is of the utmost importance, and this mechanism can be used against Israel as well."
Sefarad believes that Israel grossly violated international law during the Gaza campaign, maybe even to the extant of committing war crimes: "The hope is that we will be the ones to seek out those responsible and bring them to justice. If that is not done, then an international organization should do it, otherwise the atrocities will continue."
As for any damage to Israel's international standing in case top officials are tried, Sefarad remained unfazed: "If our officers committed crimes they should be where criminals should be. Should a president be given immunity against rape charges just because of his title? Should a finance minister not go to jail for stealing? It may be less than desirable to investigate a defense minister, but if he is a war criminal, he belongs in jail.
"As a citizen of Israel, I would like to see the State prosecute its war criminals," he concluded. "But if Israel refuses to prosecute, or even investigate such cases, then someone lese has to do it."
Former JAG Deputy Colonel (Res.) Ilan Katz disagrees. Katz believed The Hague's role has long been used to serve political interests: "Some countries allow individuals to lobby for the prosecution of people suspected of war crimes; and Palestinian and extreme-Left groups have been making use of that against the State of Israel."
Hamas, he added, is exploiting international law just as it did the civilian population in Gaza. "I cannot imagine any country will actually try to have Israel's foreign minister arrested; but I do think it is high time we use the same gears to prosecute the heads of Hamas for eight years of rocket fire on Sderot."
Attorney Talia Sasson, formally of the State Prosecutor's Office, is more concerned about the actual image of an Israeli official standing trail at The Hague. "It saddens me that we even got to a point where we face such perils."
Israel, she added, must understand its limits: "Our restraint must derive from our own moral code. We don’t need anyone in the world to tell us where to draw the line. It is our duty to know the difference between right and wrong and know how much force we can exert.
"Everyone agrees we have the right to defend ourselves, the question remains how much force you use… we have to consider the international community's opinion. We can't keep burying our head in the sand."