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Israel: judicial reform plan will see soldiers at risk of international arrest and trial

September 7, 2023 at 11:27 am

Israeli soldiers patrol on a street in Urif village of Nablus, West Bank on June 29, 2023 [Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli legal experts have warned that all Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers in the occupied West Bank will be at risk of arrest in European countries and elsewhere on war crimes charges following the government’s “judicial reform” plan to weaken the judiciary and the Supreme Court in particular, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Thursday.

The newspaper quoted an internal email at a major law firm in Tel Aviv: “To whom it may concern, following the harm done to the Supreme Court, there is a great possibility today that someone performing military service in the [occupied] territories, who is photographed with their face exposed, will be at risk of arrest in Europe and elsewhere for war crimes.”

If that happens, said the email, it will be very difficult to provide assistance. “As long as all the steps that harm the Supreme Court and the court system are not cancelled, this danger will be present, tangible, and real. Everyone is advised not to submit to the call to serve in the reserve.”

Hundreds of Israeli reservists leave duty in protest against advancing judicial overhaul plans - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Hundreds of Israeli reservists leave duty in protest against advancing judicial overhaul plans – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The email was written by lawyer Ronnie Berkman, who has prosecuted many international cases and is an expert on matters of international law regarding the trial of members of the armed forces of a particular country on charges of war crimes. Berkman opposes the Israeli government’s plan to weaken the judiciary. By preventing the Supreme Court from being able to have judicial oversight of the government’s decisions, as well statements and actions by ministers, there is a very serious danger to all regular Israeli army soldiers and in the country and the reserve.

Israeli military pilots in the reserve explained their refusal to turn up for reserve duty in recent months by saying that it is out of fear of investigations, lawsuits and judicial procedures in the International Criminal Court in The Hague or in other courts in other countries.

The newspaper noted that legal experts have confirmed that prosecutions would not only be against Israeli pilots, but against all Israeli soldiers, and that the danger is much higher for officers and soldiers who do not work in secret. Such personnel are exposed to cameras that are not controlled by military censors.

These concerns have led to secret deliberations in Israel, with the participation of the Military Advocate General, the General Staff, senior officials in the Ministry of Justice, and the Office of the Attorney General, Ghali Bhairav Mayara, in her capacity as being responsible for the Military Advocate. The military authorities described these risks as the “fourth hour” or “fourth dimension” that should be scrutinised in light of the political crisis in Israel and its internal and external consequences.

The former director of the international department in the Israeli Public Prosecution, Gal Lavartov, gave a statement to the Supreme Court recently, in which he said that, “In all the cases that we dealt with in which the central prosecution allowed the closure of the cases or stopping legal procedures relied on the independence of the Israeli court system, which can take criminal measures itself against citizens, no matter how high-ranking they are, including army commanders or officers, if they break the law.”

READ: 7 million Israelis demonstrated against judicial overhaul

The Ynet website reported that, following the claim by the former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, that Israel is practicing apartheid in the West Bank, Israeli officials and experts in international law have expressed concern about racist statements made by former security officials and ministers like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. They warn that Israel is nearing the stage of facing criminal proceedings in international courts.

“As long as Israeli ministers speak publicly in a manner that can be construed as support for an established policy that includes inhumane acts of an oppressive and racist regime,” explained former defence attorney at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Nick Kaufman, “the road to the prosecution of Israeli leaders is clear.”