Spain may amend war crimes law

Following probe of Israeli security officials, diplomat says universal jurisdiction has been "abused."

yaalon 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
yaalon 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
The Spanish government is considering a proposal to amend a controversial war crimes law that would allow a Madrid court to investigate Israelis over the killing of Palestinians, a Spanish diplomat said Monday. The moves comes a week after a Spanish judge began an investigation into seven top Israeli security officials for their role in a a 2002 attack in Gaza that killed a top Hamas terrorist and 14 other civilians. The Spanish decision to investigate the Israelis for war crimes, which was made on the heels of the bruising 22-day military operation against Hamas in Gaza, was previously blasted by Israel as a "mockery of international law" and a "cynical political" attempt by anti-Israel elements to abuse the Spanish court system and attack Israel. "The [Spanish] government is considering whether to introduce a proposal to change legislation which has been abused by groups all over the world," Juan Gonzalez-Barba Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Spain in Tel Aviv told The Jerusalem Post. He noted that such legislation would have to be introduced by the Spanish Ministry of Justice, and could take months. The deputy Spanish ambassador, who was speaking at a Hebrew University conference on the aftermath of the Gaza war, added that it was uncertain that such legislation would be retroactive and affect the case before the courts. He conceded that the matter could impact relations between the two countries. Israel has informed Spain, which has been among the most anti-Israel countries in Europe during the military operation, that there will be implications in relations between the two countries if such a solution is not found. In his address, Gonzalez-Barba was at pains to stress that official Spanish-Israeli relations, which were established only in 1986, were "as strong as ever," even if they might be "severely hurt" in the field of private perceptions. He asserted that Spain had not strayed from official EU policy during the three-week long conflict, but conceded that the "power of images" and the "unexpected" decision by the Spanish judge left a balance against Israel. In a revealing moment, the Spanish diplomat noted that the lightning visit of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to Jerusalem last month as part of a delegation of six European leaders following Israel's January 17 declaration of a cease-fire was not an endorsement of Israel's position in the conflict but an endorsement of the cease-fire. Foreign Minister Livni said last week that the Spanish government would work to change the law giving Spanish courts the authority to try the Israelis for war crimes. The investigation, which was spurred by a complaint filed by the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights and sent shock waves throughout Israel, deals with the 2002 Israeli air strike that killed Salah Shehadeh, a top Hamas commander in Gaza, and 14 civilians. The judge acted in accordance with a law, known as universal jurisdiction, that allows Spain and other European countries to prosecute of foreigners for war crimes. The legal review under way in Spain is especially revealing since the country has never brought charges against its own citizens for crimes committed in the name of Gen. Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator who ruled the country from the 1930s until his death in 1975. The Spanish diplomat said that a statue of limitations, and an amnesty for all activities during the Civil War barred such legal action. In a separate address, the Mexican ambassador to Israel said that he was surprised by the harshness of the Mexican media towards Israel during the conflict, and expressed concern that the anti-Israel sentiments in Latin America brought out by the war were emerging into anti-Semitic actions, like the weekend assault on a Venezuelan synagogue. "The most worrisome impact [of the war] in Latin America is that this is an example of a trend... which is happening without raising an eyebrow of most people who under other circumstances would find them totally unacceptable," Ambassador Federico Salas said.