Two Belgian lawyers, working on behalf of a group of Palestinians, plan to charge 14 Israeli politicians, including Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Matan Vilnai, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
By Danna Harman
LONDON – Two Belgian lawyers announced on Wednesday that, working on behalf of a group of Palestinians – including, significantly, one who is a Belgian national – they were intending to charge 14 Israeli politicians, including Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Matan Vilnai, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The lawyers, Georges-Henri Beauthier and Alexis Deswaef said they were acting on behalf of 13 Palestinian victims from Gaza, and an additional man – Anouar El Okka, a Belgian doctor of Palestinian origin.
The current charges would be brought against the Israeli leaders using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the lawyers said – and would focus on alleged crimes, including the use of phosperous, committed during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in January 2009.
In Belgian, the law states that there must be a connection between the crimes and a Belgian citizen in order to successfully prosecute under universal jurisdiction – something El Okka would supply.
This is not the first time the Belgian system has been asked to charge Israeli with such offenses. Just last year, Belgian attorneys, acting on behalf of Belgian nationals with relatives who were wounded or killed in Gaza, petitioned a court there to arrest then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni upon her arrival in Brussels. However, in that case it seems the connection between the victims and Belgium was not strong enough to follow through with the case.
The most famous case to date involving Belgium and Israel was in 2001 when there was a criminal complaint in Belgium on behalf of 21 survivors of the 1982 massacre at the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The then Israeli Defense Minister (Ariel Sharon) and members of the Lebanese Christian militia were charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It was after this case that the law was changed to include a clause about a Belgian connection.
This was far from the only negative attention to Israel in Europe this week.
In Strasbourg on Wednesday, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly was expected to issue a condemnation of Israel's behavior over the flotilla events and call for an independent international investigation.
The President of the council Mehemet Kavasgholu, a Turk, told a Turkish newspaper last week that he would not only demand such an investigation but would also set up the investigation under the council's auspices, something that lies within their mandate.
MK Yochanan Plezner, chair of the permanent Israeli delegation to the Council said yesterday that he and his team were hoping to avoid such an outcome.
"They will no doubt condemn Israel but our goal is to ensure that an independent international inquiry is not established, and that the council makes do with the Israeli commission," he said.
Plezner added that it is very clear the mood in Europe was increasingly unfavorable to Israel.
"There is definitely a more critical mood and we see this mainly with out friends and allies who are less willing to stand alongside us," he said. "And, our foes are becoming more adept at exploiting the liberal discourse against Israel….so it is becoming less politically correct to support of stand by Israel."
In Sweden meanwhile, dockworkers launched a week-long boycott of cargo to and from Israel to protest the flotilla episode. About 1,500 members of the Swedish Dockworkers Union began the boycott on Tuesday across the country's ports, which handle more than 95 per cent of Sweden's foreign trade.
Bjoern Borg, the dockworkers union's chairman, said they were calling for an international investigation into the May 31 raid and added Israel's recent easing of its Gaza blockade was insufficient.
"We don't think it is far-reaching enough," he said. "We want them to lift the blockade."