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When will Olmert’s real trial begin?

Last week, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was put in block 10 of Ma’asiyahu Prison near Ramle to spend a year and 7 months behind bars for corruption and bribery. He was sentenced after a series of lengthy judicial deliberations that began in 2009, following the exposure of his illegal exploitation of his position.

Before being sent to prison, Olmert issued a video in which he admitted to making mistakes. However, he claimed that these mistakes do not amount to criminal violations. He also hinted that there are factors unrelated to the law involved in his case. The ex-prime minister is not the only one to suggest a conspiracy theory; some Palestinian officials beat him to it when they claimed that Olmert was overthrown because he was close to reaching an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the negotiations held after the Annapolis conference.

It is surprising and deplorable, though, for a Palestinian leader to describe Olmert as “a man of peace”; he is responsible for the killing of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians. The Palestinian leadership should be saying something completely different.

It is ironic that Olmert has been sentenced for corruption given that he made his political name apparently fighting “relentless battles” against corruption during the 1970s. However, if he feels that his “mistakes” were not criminal offences, there are some very real crimes for which he could and should stand trial. If his indictment actually listed all of the crimes committed on his watch, then the corruption charges would indeed seem frivolous. The charges Olmert should be facing are heinous by any standard:

  • Killing more than 1,200 Lebanese citizens during Israel’s second war on Lebanon in 2006, wounding over 4,200 others, destroying a large number of homes, bridges, and public facilities, and causing the displacement of over 600,000 people.
  • Killing over 1,440 Palestinians, including 420 children, in the 2008/9 war on Gaza, wounding over 5,500 others, destroying 4,000 homes, demolishing 20 mosques, 67 schools, and 34 health facilities, and causing the displacement of 55,000 Palestinians.
  • Bombing Syrian territories and killing a number of civilians.
  • Building tens of thousands of residential units in Israel’s illegal settlements during his terms as mayor of Jerusalem and Israeli prime minister.

Unfortunately, such things are not considered crimes by Israel, but accepting some bribes leads to a scandal, trial and prison. This is an example of “gang logic”, whereby a member can kill a person and gain status within the gang, but if he steals the gang’s money or lies, he exposes himself to the harshest of punishments.

It is not too late to put Olmert on trial for committing war crimes, and even crimes against humanity. There is firm evidence for a case to be filed at the International Criminal Court, which is the proper place for Olmert to be brought to account. When will the Lebanese government take this step? When will the Palestinian leadership dare to do it? We must put pressure on them for this to happen, because if he and those like him are not prosecuted, war crimes will continue to be committed.

Translated from Arab48, 21 February, 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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