Israel reacts with fury to Belgium decision

February 13, 2003

* This is an update to the dispatch titled Belgian politicians say Peres should be put on trial (January 23, 2002)

 

CONTENTS

1. Who can forget the Congo?
2. "Pretentious and hypocritical"
3. "Israel recalls envoy following Belgian court ruling on Sharon" (Ha'aretz, Feb. 13, 2003)
4. "Belgium asserts right to try Sharon" (Guardian, Feb. 13, 2003)
5. Statement by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Meir Lau
6. Statement by The President of Israel, Moshe Katsav
7. Statement by The Israeli Minister of Justice, Meir Sheetrit
8. "Outraged Belgian Jews threaten suit against Arafat" (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 13, 2003)
9. "Netanyahu denounces Belgium decision as 'blood libel'" (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 13, 2003)


WHO CAN FORGET THE CONGO?

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach seven articles and press releases relating to the Belgian Supreme Court's decision to allow Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be tried for what the London Guardian today calls "genocide" for Sharon's failure to foresee the Christian massacre of Muslims in the Sabra and Shatila neighborhoods of Beirut in 1982 (one of a number of tit-for-tat Muslim-Christian massacres in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s).

For those of you who are not aware, the Belgian-backed massacres in the Congo rank among one of the worst and most extensive genocides of the last century, one of a number of Belgian crimes against humanity. One wonders why the Belgians don't also want to try their neighbors the Dutch for ordering their troops to stand by and watch while thousands of Muslims were massacred in 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

-- Tom Gross

 

“PRETENTIOUS AND HYPOCRITICAL”

All the pieces below are from Thursday, February 13, 2003.

1. "Israel recalls envoy following Belgian court ruling on Sharon" (Ha'aretz)

2. "Belgium asserts right to try Sharon" (By Ian Black, The Guardian). (In this piece, The Guardian ups the death toll at Sabra and Chatilla to 800, about twice the number the newspaper claimed at the time of the massacre and the years following it.)

3. Statement by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Meir Lau (himself a Nazi concentration camp survivor) condemning the Belgian Supreme Court decision as "pretentious and hypocritical."

4. Statement by The President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, who today "sent a severe letter to the King of Belgium, in which he expressed his chagrin at Belgium's High Court's decision to try Israelis in their courts."

5. Statement by the Israeli Minister of Justice, Meir Sheetrit, expressing his "outrage" at Belgium for its "personal hunt for Prime Minister Sharon, which originated from a deliberate Palestinian initiative."

6. "Outraged Belgian Jews threaten suit against Arafat" (The Jerusalem Post). A Belgian Jew wounded in the 1982 bombing attack on the main synagogue in Brussels for which the PLO claimed responsibility is planning to press charges against PLO head Yasser Arafat. Belgian Jewish leader Betty Dan, adds "There is a unanimous feeling that this move [against Sharon and Israel] has everything to do with politics, and nothing to do with justice." With Belgian elections set for May 18, and Belgium's 35,000 Jews outnumbered by Muslims by a factor of ten to one, the decision to allow the trial to go ahead is seen as an attempt to curry favor with the immigrant community.

7. "Netanyahu denounces Belgium decision as 'blood libel'" (The Jerusalem Post).


FULL ARTICLES

ISRAEL RECALLS ENVOY FOLLOWING BELGIAN COURT RULING ON SHARON

Israel recalls envoy following Belgian court ruling on Sharon
By Sharon Sadeh, Aluf Benn and Amnon Barzilai
Ha'aretz
February 13, 2003

Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday recalled Israel's ambassador to Belgium, Yehudi Kinar, after the Belgian Supreme Court ruled that Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron could be prosecuted for his involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres in 1982 in Beirut, when he was commander of the IDF forces in the Lebanese capital at the time.

The court also ruled that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can be put on trial for his alleged involvement in the affair, but only after he ceases to be prime minister, when he no longer has diplomatic immunity.

In addition to recalling the ambassador, Netanyahu urgently summoned Belgium's ambassador to Israel for a meeting today at which the foreign minister will deliver a vehement Israeli reaction to the court decision.

Government sources said last night it was not yet known how long Israel's ambassador to Belgium would be kept at home, but that there was no doubt that the decision would have a negative influence on Israel-Belgium relations.

In a statement issued last night, Netanyahu said the Belgian court had made "a scandalous decision, which legitimizes terror and harms those who fight it. This turns the tables when those who fight terror turn into the accused and the terrorists are victorious.

"Belgium is helping to harm not only Israel, but also the entire free world, and Israel will respond with severity to this," the foreign minister continued.

Government sources expressed concern regarding the possibility of future prosecutions against Israelis in Belgium, based on yesterday's court ruling. But they also noted that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was also in line for prosecution in Belgium, in the wake of complaints filed against him by Israeli terror victims.

Meanwhile, Yaron, who is most directly threatened by the ruling, said: "The court decision is very serious and the way in which the entire affair was handled does not look right to me."

He said that he would be consulting with legal advisors, including the Defense Ministry's legal advisor, Zvia Gross, to study the decision. "I am not worried by the decision. I don't travel to Belgium. The ministry doesn't have any business with Belgium, and I haven't been there since becoming director-general," he added.

Defense Ministry sources voiced outrage and concern about the decision making it possible to prosecute Yaron, who was in command of IDF forces in Beirut at the time of the massacre of some 800 Palestinians by Phalangist troops who were Israeli allies during the war.

The Defense Ministry will not be issuing a formal statement until it has heard directly from the head of international affairs at the State Prosecutor's Office, Irit Kahn, who was in the Belgian court for the verdict yesterday. One worry is that Belgium could use extradition treaties, to which Israel is signed, and issue a pan-European warrant for Yaron's arrest. However, the court decision yesterday only stipulated that a lower instance could begin an investigation of its own into Yaron's involvement. The Belgian government has, meanwhile, been fashioning new legislation that would severely limit the ability of its legal system to prosecute suspected international war criminals with no connection to Belgium.

 

BELGIUM ASSERTS RIGHT TO TRY SHARON

Belgium asserts right to try Sharon
By Ian Black
The Guardian
February 13, 2003

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, can be tried for genocide in Belgium once he has left office, the Belgian appeal court ruled last night.

The judgment opens the way for survivors of a 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut to press their case against the Likud leader when his retirement loses him his immunity from prosecution.

"International custom prevents heads of government being pursued by a foreign state," the court said.

But to Israel's dismay it ruled that an action against former general Amos Yaron, commander of Israeli forces in the Beirut area at the time of the massacre, could proceed.

The Israeli foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, immediately recalled his ambassador in Brussels, Yehuda Keinar, for consultations, and will call in the Belgian ambassador today to deliver a protest, a senior Israeli source told Reuters.

"This decision is a scandal and it legitimises terror and helps those who fight terrorism," Mr Netanyahu said in a statement.

"Belgium is not only hurting Israel but the entire free world and Israel will respond to it very severely."

Mr Sharon, who was defence minister at the time, is blamed for the death of 800 Palestinians killed by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, then allied to Israel.

Relatives of some of the victims appealed against a lower court ruling last summer that Mr Sharon could not be prosecuted under the Belgian law which gives its courts universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and genocide, because he was not in Belgium.

Mr Sharon ordered the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, aimed at putting down cross-border Palestinian guerrilla activity. The following year an Israeli commission of inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the killing in the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps in the Beirut suburbs. He was forced to resign but was not prosecuted.

"This is a victory for international justice and for the victims," Luc Walleyn, a lawyer acting for the 23 plaintiffs, said.

Last month the Belgian senate amended the 1993 "universal jurisdiction" law to let prosecutors to investigate suspected war criminals even if they do not live in Belgium, removing the restriction which has so far prevented them investigating cases abroad.

There have been attempts to bring similar cases against other world leaders, including the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The government hopes to make the amendment law before the end of April.

The revised act will also give the courts jurisdiction in cases which cannot be brought before the newly created International Criminal Court, located in the Netherlands.

The only people tried under the existing law are four Rwandans sentenced last year to between 12 and 20 years for their role in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi ethnic minority and politically moderate members of the Hutu majority.

 

“OUTRAGEOUS IN THE EXTREME”

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Lau condemns Belgian Supreme Court decision as pretentious and hypocritical
Press Release
From the Israel Government Press Office

(Communicated by the Chief Rabbinate Spokesman)

Following are Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau comments on Belgium's Supreme Court's decision to allow Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be tried for war crimes.

"The thought that a nation which stood by and watched when Jewish blood was spilt like water and ignored victims' cries, is now elevating itself in the position of world policeman is outrageous in the extreme. It is regretful that a State which remained quiet at a time when it should have been screaming out in the name of humanity, is now expressing itself with such a pretentious and hypocritical voice, in order to cast fault on IDF soldiers and its commanders, who have endangered their own lives many times in order to refrain from injuring innocent civilians, and in order to denigrate the behaviour of a democratic, sovereign State."

 

“THOSE WHO ACCUSE US, WOULD DO WELL TO REFLECT ON THEIR PAST ACTIONS”

Statement from President Katsav
Press Release

(Communicated by the President's spokesman)

The President of the State of Israel, Moshe Katsav today (Thursday) 13.2.2003, sent a severe letter to the King of Belgium, in which he expressed his chagrin at Belgium's High Court's decision to try Israelis in their courts.

President Katsav totally rejects Belgium's moral right to bring Israeli leaders and IDF officers to trial.

The President emphasized that Israeli leaders and IDF officers operate according to international norms, the Israeli law, their conscience and basic human morality, and that no-one has the right to doubt the ethical standards Israel holds itself to, and that those who accuse us, would do well to reflect on their past actions.

 

“A PERSONAL HUNT”

Statement by Minister of Justice
Press Release from the Israeli Minister of Justice

(These comments were made last night for Israeli National Television.)

Following the Supreme Court of Belgium's decision yesterday (12/2), the Minister of Justice, Meir Sheetrit, had expressed his outrage :

It is unacceptable that this small and insignificant nation would be the judge for the whole world. It is a disgrace for the legal system in that country. It has the clear scent of a personal hunt for Prime Minister Sharon, which originated from a deliberate Palestinian initiative.

What have we come to? Could every country now decide to judge anything that they feel is wrong in another country? In 1982 there was an official inquiry into this matter (Sabra and Shatila). Legally, this is practically a world precedent "a law which allows for the prosecution of a person for alleged actions in the past. It has a clear retroactive nature to it and is, therefore, unprecedented".

Responding to the claim that the Belgian Supreme Court is independent, the Minister remarked that: "This decision is a result of a campaign of pressure applied on the court, and followed a special law that was passed in their government. This could not be accepted ... anyone who respects International law and the independence of nations must protest".

The Minister pointed out the pattern of recent decisions made by Belgium, and in particular the allignment of Belgium with France against a war in Iraq, a veto in NATO and the siding with the Arab countries against Israeli positions.

In conclusion the Minister declared that: "We as a country and as a legal system will fight this decision with every tool and in every institution. It is our duty to make sure that they will not be able to act as they please".

 

OUTRAGED BELGIAN JEWS THREATEN SUIT AGAINST ARAFAT

Outraged Belgian Jews threaten suit against Arafat
By Corinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim
The Jerusalem Post
February 13, 2003

Belgium's Jewish community is "extremely angered" by a Supreme Court ruling that Ariel Sharon can be tried for war crimes in Belgium, according to Betty Dan, head of the Brussels-based Radio Judaica.

According to the ruling, Sharon may be tried for his responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre once he no longer enjoys immunity as prime minister, while Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron, one of the chief Intelligence Officers in Lebanon at the time, may be tried immediately.

Dan said her radio station has been flooded with calls from angry members of the Jewish community, who see anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic sentiment behind it.

"There is a unanimous feeling that this is move has everything to do with politics, and nothing with justice."

With federal elections set for May 18, and Belgium's 35,000 Jews outnumbered by Muslims by a factor of 10 to one, the decision to allow the trial to go ahead is seen as an attempt to curry favor with the immigrant community.

Dan says the feeling is shared by the non-Jewish public. "Seven years after his arrest we still have not put the child murderer Jacques Dutroux on trial, we have not caught the killers of (former deputy prime minister and Socialist party leader Andr ) Cools, we never found out who was behind the series of terror attacks on supermarkets in the 1980's but we take the time to judge the whole world," Dan said.

While the Muslim community in Belgium was pleased with the ruling, according to Dan, "they don't see that one could now also judge Arafat in Belgium." She says a Belgian Jew who was hurt in a bombing attack on the main synagogue in Brussels in 1982, is planning to press charges against Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat.

The PLO took responsibility for the attack at the time, said Dan.

 

NETANYAHU DENOUNCES BELGIUM DECISION AS “BLOOD LIBEL”

Netanyahu denounces Belgium decision as 'blood libel'
The Jerusalem Post
February 13, 2003

Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced a Belgian court ruling that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could be tried for war crimes as an attempt at a new "blood libel" against the Jewish people.

In a speech on Thursday, Netanyahu called the ruling a "serious blow" to the war on terrorism and international law.

Netanyahu accused Belgium of "distorting the facts" about Israel "and permitting anti-Semitic speeches, which deny the rights of Jews to self-defense."

He spoke after summoning Belgium's ambassador in Israel, Wilfred Geens, to his office to protest Wednesday's decision. The ambassador said he had orders not to respond, adding that he also had not yet read the text of the decision.

In the ruling on Wednesday, Belgium's Supreme Court gave the go ahead, above a ruling by an appeals court, to try Sharon for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of 1982, once he is no longer protected by immunity as prime minister.

Israel's ambassador to Belgium, Yehuda Kenar, is due to arrive on Thursday afternoon after having been recalled shortly after the verdict was announced.

But Israel does not plan to sever diplomatic contacts with Belgium, and plans to work through other channels to try to change the decision.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.