Operation Cast Lead heads to the courtroom

NGO Monitor: Many overseas lawsuits simply aim for attention, not a winning outcome for the plaintiffs.

January 18, 2009 23:28
3 minute read.
Operation Cast Lead heads to the courtroom

gaza rubble 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

The next battle concerning Operation Cast Lead is likely to be played out in the courtroom rather than in the alleys of the Gaza Strip. Claims continued to surface on Sunday regarding Israel's conduct on the battlefield. Britain's Guardian newspaper wrote that Israel is accused of "perpetrating a series of war crimes" during a 12-hour assault on the village of Khuza'a, and listed four different allegations - that Israel attempted to bulldoze houses with civilians inside; killed civilians trying to escape under the protection of white flags; opened fire on an ambulance attempting to reach the wounded; used indiscriminate force in a civilian area; and fired white phosphorus shells. And hours later, the Israeli organization B'Tselem complained that Maher Abd al-Athim Yusuf Abu Rajileh, 24, a farmer from the same village, was killed by IDF gunfire while working his land, some 400 meters from the Gaza security fence. But those complaints are the tip of the iceberg. According to data gathered by NGO Monitor, Amnesty International has accused Israel of "unlawful attacks," Human Rights Watch accused Israel of "indiscriminate" attacks that were against the "rules of law," and Oxfam said Israeli leaders have committed "massive and disproportionate violence... in violation of international law." These allegations may find their way into foreign courts - with Britain and Spain likely sites for suits and even attempts at criminal prosecution. In the past, many of the allegations against Israeli military and defense leaders were filed with British magistrates, since in the United Kingdom, individuals presenting evidence can request indictments from magistrates. In such instances, Israel must rely on local lawyers to plead its case in the courts. In recent years, Israel has worked behind the scenes to try to change that precedent so that any indictments filed against Israel in British courts would require the state's prosecutorial authority to review any such case before an indictment is delivered. It is less likely that Israel will find itself protesting innocence before the International Criminal Court in The Hague or other possible venues for international proceedings against alleged war crimes. Only nations that are a party to the ICC can be tried there, unless the UN Security Council votes to try a nonmember state. Israel is not a party to the ICC, and it is likely that the United States would veto any attempt by the council to bring Israel to court. Dan Kosky of NGO Monitor said the goal of many of the overseas lawsuits is simply the attention they garner and not necessarily a winning outcome for the plaintiffs. Hebrew University lecturer Robbie Sabel agrees. "What we are going to see is lots of people trying to issue complaints and see what the magistrates do with them simply to harass us," he said. "I think we have to assume that there will be attempts by Hamas supporters to try to lodge complaints. They've done this in the past," he warned, adding that "it would be interesting if someone tried the same against Hamas." Sabel deems it unlikely that any Western state would seek to prosecute Israel for war crimes. "Third party states" only do so, he explained, when the state in question is "unwilling or unable to prosecute their soldiers." "The Israeli army, like other responsible army, would itself prosecute any soldier suspected of committing a war crime. Such trials have taken place in the past in the UK, the US and in Israel," said Sabel. Furthermore, the allegations made thus far do not constitute the type of war crimes - such as organized mass murder or mass rape of civilians - that the international community usually seeks to prosecute, he said. "I know of no case in which a state has tried to prosecute an officer in a regular army conducting normal warfare. No court has tried to sit in judgment of how the US and UK fought in Iraq," Sabel said. "States aren't concerned with whether a specific artillery shell was fired 30 meters to the left or right."

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