Fifteen Israeli citizens who also hold Belgian passports and live within the range of Hamas rockets have asked the Belgian federal prosecutor to issue arrest warrants against the Hamas leadership based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The action was filed earlier this week by Belgian lawyers Roel Coveliers and his father, Hugo, at the initiative of a non-profit organization called "The Israel Initiative," established by Uri Yablonka. The organization is represented here by attorneys Nehama and Mordechai Tzivin.
The suspects in the case include Khaled Mashal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas's "foreign minister," Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas's military wing, the Izzadin Kassam, and six others. The petitioners charged them with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity because of the rocket attacks against Israel.
A Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post he did not have sufficient information about the initiative to comment on it.
The criminal action is based on the findings of the Goldstone Commission report on the fighting between Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza Strip including Operation Cast Lead. The commission said there was reason to believe both Israel and the Palestinian leadership in Gaza had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The request quoted from the Goldstone Commission report including the following: "The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precision at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction. Where there is no intended military target and rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population. These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity."
The signators agreed to file the suit on condition that their names would not be published. However, one of the plaintiffs, who lives in the Gaza periphery, agreed to talk to the Post. He said he was persuaded to join the lawsuit by Yablonka and Tzivin and that he was happy to help in the efforts to stop rockets being fired at Israel. "Life isn't easy here," he said. "If I can do something to help, I'm all in favor."
Although some of the plaintiffs have expressed concern that their families in Belgium may be jeopardized if their names are published, the plaintiff who spoke to the Post said he would consider going to Belgium and testifying in court if this turned out to be necessary.
Until recently, the universal jurisdiction law in Belgium allowed anyone to apply to a Belgian court and ask it to hear allegations of war crimes even if the person lodging the complaint was not a Belgian citizen and the alleged crime had nothing to do with Belgium. The Belgian parliament has since changed the law and now requires that the person lodging the complaint be a Belgian citizen.
Tzivin said "Hamas is a terror organization which violates every article of the international law on a daily basis for years. The European justice system must realize that Hamas is a threat to the EU and to EU citizens, just as much as it is a threat to Israel."