by Tahir Abdullah (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1430)
Representatives from nearly 55 countries will convene in Tehran in early March to help lodge a case for war crimes committed by Israel in its war on Ghazzah. Iranian Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi announced early last month “the summit will explore legal and judicial ways for an international investigation into acts of genocide and crimes against humanity that Israel committed in the Gaza Strip.” He said a high level commission had been established within the Iranian Judiciary to take legal action against the architects of Israel’s three-week long offensive in Ghazzah. “As a signatory to the Geneva Convention, the Islamic Republic reserves the right to prosecute Israel as culpable for war crimes,” he said.
The List of Israeli War Criminals
1. Shimon Peres, President
2. Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister
3. Ehud Barak, Defense Minister
4. Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister
5. Major General Ido Nehushtan, Commander-in-Chief of Israeli Air Force responsible for shelling residential areas in Gaza with phosphorus bombs
6. Brigadier General Yuval Halamish, Chief Intelligence Officer
7. General Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff
8. Major-General Yoav Galant, Chief of Southern Command
9. Major General Amos Yadlin, Military Intelligence Chief
10. Colonel Avi Peled, Head of 51st battalion
11. Colonel Hartzi Halevi, Paratroops brigade commander
12. Colonel Yigal Slovik, Commander 401st Armored Corps Brigade
13. Brigadier-General Eyal Eisenberg
14. Colonel Ron Ashrov, Commander northern Gaza operation and deputy to the Givati Brigade
15. Brigadier General Zvika Fogel, head of Southern Command in charge of artillery fire for Operation Cast Lead
16. Brigadier General Jonathan Locker, head of the Israeli air forces that operated in Gaza
17. Major Nimrod Aloni
18. Colonel Tomer Tsiter, a Givati squad commander from Ra'anana
19. Lieutenant Colonel Shlomo Saban
20. Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi
21. Brigadier General Moshe Ya'elon
22. Shaul Mofaz, Transport Minister
The summit announcement came only two days after the Palestinian Authority recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over Israel’s alleged violations of humanitarian law. Calls for an international probe into Tel Aviv’s war crimes intensified after Israeli soldiers asserted they had pounded the Palestinian coast with at least twenty phosphorus bombs during their operations. Israel initially denied using the controversial weapon, which burns the flesh to the bone, but was forced later, in the face of mounting evidence, to admit to having used it. Aljazeera TV showed graphic footage of Palestinian civilians, including children, burned with phosphorus as well as phosphorus balls burning in the streets of Ghazzah.
Other charges brought against Israel include the “reckless and indiscriminate” shelling of residential areas, the use of Palestinian families as human shields by Israeli soldiers and unrelenting attacks on several medical facilities and UN compounds in the area. In one particularly gruesome episode, the Israeli army herded the Samouni clan, some 110 members in all, into one building, and then shelled it with artillery fire, the building collapsing on top of them. For four days, the Israelis prevented medical personnel from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to assist the wounded. More than 70 people died. Children rescued from the wreckage narrated heart-wrenching stories of how they witnessed their mothers and siblings bleed to death in front of their eyes as they themselves lay bleeding.
In Israel’s three-week assault, more than 1373 Palestinians, half of them women and children, were killed. At least 5,000 have been injured, many of them so badly that they remain hospitalized but due to lack of proper medicines that the Israelis have blocked from reaching Ghazzah, the wounded are in danger of dying. The military assault on Ghazzah was launched at a time when Palestinians were already suffering a 19-month-long siege, which stripped the area of vital goods, including food, fuel, medical supplies and construction materials. Running water and electricity are reportedly available for less than 12 hours a day. “Entire neighborhoods have disappeared,” according to the BBC. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has reported that an estimated 60,800 people are left homeless and more than 100,000 people remain displaced in the narrow coastal strip.
The Iranian probe has been followed by an official complaint lodged by Mazlum-Der, a Turkish human rights organization, with Ankara chief prosecutor’s office against several Israeli political leaders and military commanders. Turkish prosecutors said on Feb-ruary 6 that they were investigating whether Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity over the recent military offensive in Ghazzah. The group stated in its complaint that genocide, torture and crimes against humanity were committed by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the country’s army and military intelligence chiefs. Mazlum-Der has also asked that these Israeli officials be arrested if they enter Turkey, the prosecutors said. When contacted, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Ankara declined comment. Turkey has maintained diplomatic relations with Israel since the early fifties although many Turks have been appalled at casualties among Palestinian civilians during Israel’s Ghazzah war. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzer-land, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan scolded Peres over the war during a panel discussion on January 29 and walked off the stage in protest when he was prevented from speaking. He returned home to a hero’s welcome.
Speaking to the Turkish daily, Today’s Zaman, Mazlum-Der Chair-man Ömer Faruk Gergenlioglu confirmed that the probe had been opened. “But in order for a court case against non-citizens to be opened, the minister of justice must also give his consent,” he said. Gergenlioglu and his associates met Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Sahin on February 9 to convince him to let the case proceed. Mazlum-Der is also lobbying to convince the ministry to file a complaint at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Only states can file complaints with the international court.
The complaint filed by Mazlum-Der is not just symbolic. The case represents the culmination of a lengthy and serious preparation process. “We have sent our Istanbul representative to Gaza to prepare a report. We studied earlier cases all over the world. We brought pieces from the flare bombs [white phosphorous shells used by Israel in Gaza] and had those pieces analyzed in laboratories. We gathered statements from eye witnesses and received powers of attorney from several Palestinians who were directly affected by the Israeli atrocities,” Gergenlioglu told Today’s Zaman.
The international court and the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office are not Mazlum-Der’s sole options. “We believe we can do a lot within the legal system. Israel has no jurisdiction over our courthouses. In fact, Israel provides the best examples of what we can do. They judged Nazi criminals in Israel. If they can do this, we can do it, too. They even abducted the suspects and brought them to Israel secretly,” he told Today’s Zaman.
One alternative Mazlum-Der is working on is the International Criminal Court (ICC). Since Israel is not a signatory to the ICC, the court itself cannot mobilize and launch a probe. “But if the UN Security Council decides that the ICC should launch a probe, it can. It did this in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. We are lobbying to convince the member states of the UN Security Council to ask the ICC to start such an investigation,” Gergenlioglu said.
Israel has attempted to justify its murderous assault on Ghazzah by invoking ‘self-defense’ as recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.The UN Charter and international law, however, do not give Israel the legal foundation for claiming self-defense in the case of its Ghazzah attacks. Michael Mandel, Professor of International Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who himself is Jewish, dismissed the self-defense argument in an article in Counterpunch (February 5, 2009). “A more fundamental objection, however, is the self-evident legal and moral principle that an aggressor cannot rely upon self-defense to justify violence against resistance to its own aggression. You can find this principle in domestic law and in the judgments of the Nuremberg tribunals.”
To emphasize his point, Professor Mandel then quoted one Nuremberg judge that dismissed the Germans’ argument of self-defense against Russian resistance, “On of the most amazing phenomena of this case which does not lack in startling features is the manner in which the aggressive war conducted by Germany against Russia has been treated by the defense as if it were the other way around... If it is assumed that some of the resistance units in Russia or members of the population did commit acts which were in themselves unlawful under the rules of war, it would still have to be shown that these acts were not in legitimate defense against wrongs perpetrated upon them by the invader. Under International Law, as in Domestic Law, there can be no reprisal against reprisal. The assassin who is being repulsed by his intended victim may not slay him and then, in turn, plead self-defense.” (Trial of Otto Ohlendorf and others, Military Tribunal II-A, April 8, 1948).
Despite claiming “self-defense”, the Israeli government is taking no chances. Initially, Israeli military censors had permitted the names of officers involved in Ghazzah operations to be published. After charges of war crimes surfaced, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered a change in policy prohibiting publication of names of all officers below the rank of brigade commander, due to fears that any officer publicly identified as being involved in the operation could be vulnerable to prosecution overseas in any of several European countries that claim universal jurisdiction.
“By then, however, many names and pictures of lower-ranking officers had already been published, and these reports are still available on the Internet,” according to Amos Harel of the Israeli daily, Haaretz. By searching the Web, a database of such officers can easily be compiled. That is what anti-war activists in Israel and in Europe have done. “So far, the local blacklist contains the names of nine battalion commanders from the Golani and Paratroops brigades and the armored corps. However, defense officials fear that overseas leftist organizations will use the same technique to compile far more comprehensive lists, including junior officers and pilots,” said Harel in his Haaretz article.
While they deserve to be brought before a court of law to face war crimes charges, these are unlikely to happen in the current West-dominated international political environment. The Israelis, however, should be made to feel like the moral and political lepers that they are and shunned globally. The blood of innocent Palestinians deserves no less.