The Case Against Sharon

On 12 February 2003 Belgian’s highest appeals court (Cour de Cassation) ruled that Israeli Prime Ministry Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes, including genocide, once he ceases to hold office. The court ruled, moreover, that the charges were so severe that the accused could be tried in absentia. The ruling also cleared the way for war crimes trials against Israeli General Amos Yaron (currently Defense Ministry director-general and former commander of the Israeli invasion forces in Beirut), former chief of staff Rafael Eitan, and Major General (res.) Amir Drori. These proceedings are likely to begin in the next two or three months. The ruling means that Belgian courts will conduct their own inquiry into the circumstances of the 1982 massacres in the Beirut camps and the degree of responsibility of Israeli officers and their commanders.

The Belgian court ruling is a landmark ruling, because it marks the end of a period of more than fifty years when Israel was permitted to stand above international law and Israeli perpetrators of war crimes could expect impunity. The fact that Israel – in line with its policy of exempting itself from all international law enforcement mechanisms – has never made a commitment to accept advisory rulings issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) might effectively prevent the Israeli government from seeking redress with the ICJ.

The Israeli Response

Confident that the case was closed by previous political pressure and legal appeals, Israel’s legal delegation in Brussels, the Israeli government, politicians and media were equally shocked by this ruling. Immediate media statements by then Israeli Minister of Justice Meir Shitrit on Israel Channel One, who characterized the legal ruling as “a political plot against the whole free and enlightened world, just like Belgium’s stand on the war against terror and Iraq,” expressed fury, lack of understanding of the legal process involved, and total disregard of the independence of the Belgian judiciary. Likewise, then Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the ruling “a renewed blood libel against the Jewish people” and stated that “we will not let them fuck the Jews.”

Israeli spokespersons have announced retaliation by diplomatic, economic and non-diplomatic means with the help of the United States. To date, this has meant the temporary downgrading of diplomatic relations with Belgium (Ambassador Yehudi Kenar has been recalled to Israel for consultations and will not return to Brussels immediately) and the reprimanding of the Belgian ambassador to Israel. Very few voices in Israel recalled the crucial role of the Belgian government in the ratification of the preferential trade association agreement between Israel and the European Union. No one has yet reminded the Israeli public and politicians of the fact that Israel was the first country in the world to endorse universal jurisdiction for war crimes in its national legislation in the context of the landmark case against the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichman.

For more information on the case against Ariel Sharon and other Israeli and Lebanese officials, contact the International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila.
Laurie King-Irani, North American Coordinator
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The ruling of the Belgian Court of Cassation and commentary by the legal team representing the plaintiffs is available in the original French and English translation (unofficial) on the website of the International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila, www.indictsharon.org.

The International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila

An open letter to Foreign Minister Netanyahu from the Sabra and Shatila massacre survivors' legal team

13 February 2003
Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Israel

Dear Mr. Netanyahu,

On Thursday, you declared that the Belgian Supreme court made "a scandalous decision, which legitimizes terror and harms those who fight it. This turns the tables -- when those who fight terror turn into the accused and the terrorists are victorious."

As counsels of the plaintiffs, 28 Palestinian and Lebanese survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, we cannot accept your language, tone, or the characterization of yesterday's landmark ruling. Our clients are not "terrorists," but ordinary people who were raped, tortured, and wounded; who were forced to witness -- and relive everyday since -- the slaughter of their children, parents, husbands and wives, or who had their close relatives "disappeared." By calling these victimized survivors "terrorists," after all that they have endured for over twenty years, you have brought shame upon yourself as Foreign Minister, and upon your country, which, to its great credit, acknowledged the responsibility of Israeli politicians and military in this crime against humanity two decades ago, yet has never gone one additional and crucial step further by legally prosecuting the perpetrators and compensating the victims.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, you should not accuse the Belgian Supreme Court of legitimizing terrorism simply because it accepts the principle that Belgian courts have universal jurisdiction over perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Your country was the very first country in the world to endorse universal jurisdiction for such crimes in its national legislation. Israel arrested war criminals like Eichmann in other countries, or sought to have suspects extradited.
Israel has failed, however, in respecting and discharging its clear obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, expressly qualified by the United Nations as an act of genocide and perpetrated in territory then under the control of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Your statement gratuitously inflicts additional pain and suffering on our clients. The Middle East has been plagued by violence and revenge for over half a century. Our clients' legal action constitutes the very first attempt by victims of mass violence in the region to seek redress through non-violent legal action before an independent court, and we expect any decent person in the world to respect this choice.

We are issuing this public request that you apologize for your cruel remarks.

Sincerely,
Luc Walleyn, Michael Verhaeghe, Chibli Mallat
Brussels/Beirut