Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israel at work on war-crimes damage-control

There are a number of Israeli media reports and comments on the war-crimes issue. Here are the main ones available in English:

(1) Haaretz says in an editorial Israel should launch its own investigation in order to preempt international war-crimes proceedings

(2) YNet publishes an article quoting Israeli lawyers who warn that anyone involved in the operation could be prosecuted anywhere in the world. For instance:
Attorney Michael Sefarad, who specialized in international law, said that we must remember that the entire mechanism of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague was put in place after World War II and the Holocaust, at the Jewish people's demand.

Sefarad believes that Israel grossly violated international law during the Gaza campaign, maybe even to the extant of committing war crimes: "The hope is that we will be the ones to seek out those responsible and bring them to justice. If that is not done, then an international organization should do it, otherwise the atrocities will continue."

"The notion that some acts cannot be committed even in a time of war and that war criminals cannot find refuge anywhere is of the utmost importance, and this mechanism can be used against Israel as well."

(3) According to YNet, the Israeli Attorney General said each and every strike was approved by officials of the Judge Advocate General's office in a situation room, based on principles that have all been gone over and settled as far as the Israeli authorities are concerned, so they are ready for the expected "slew of lawsuits".

(4) Haaretz publishes an investigative piece by two reporters on disagreements and institutional issues surrounding "the international law division's permissive positions" and the "relaxing of the rules of engagement."

(5) Also according to YNet, top IDF officers have been advised to get permission from the Judge Advocate General's office if they plan to travel, and some will be advised not to.

(6) Haaretz publishes an op-ed by Gideon Levy that says:
On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.

This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image....

So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.
There are a couple of points in an AlHayat article this morning that raise additional points suggesting damage-control efforts are already under way. Here are the Hayat comments (with the additional points italicized):
Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and at the same time it established the importance of protecting officers who participated in the war from court prosecutions expected to be instituted by rights organizations in Europe. In this connection, army leadership prohibited the media from disclosing the names of officers, and required [officers] to obtain military permission before travelling abroad. The army denied the used of depleted uranium, and said it is investigating the possible use by certain reserve units of 20 shells of white phosphorus against residents of a populated area in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
AlHayat reports on a demo in Brussels against Tzipi Livni's visit there yesterday. And sources said the Palestinian justice minister and rights groups are planning to file a complaint of war crimes and crimes againsts humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague today, defendants to include Olmert, Barak and Livni. The paper says initial issues will include: the fact Palestine doesn't have the status of a state; and whether individual citizens can have recourse to the international court.


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