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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Israel's Supreme Court will hear evidence that officials committed war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza

Jonathan Cook Last updated: 29 Mar 2014
During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces [EPA]

Nazareth, Israel - For the first time Israel's Supreme Court is set to consider evidence on April 2 that senior Israeli political and military officials committed war crimes in relation to major military operations in Gaza and Lebanon.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the current justice minister, are among the high-level figures accused of breaking the laws of war when they launched attacks on Lebanon in 2006, and on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09.

The allegations have been levelled by Marwan Dalal, the only Israeli lawyer to have served as a senior prosecutor in one of the international criminal courts at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Dalal, who spent three years as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, belongs to Israel's Palestinian minority, which comprises a fifth of the country's population.

He said he had based his petition to the court on "strong factual and legal findings" from public sources, including the reports of Israeli official inquiries.

His evidence includes statements from senior Israeli officials in which they appear to implicate themselves in actions - including killing, collective punishment and attacks on civilian infrastructure - not justified by military necessity. Such acts are breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as Israeli law.

Dalal will argue before the court that the Israeli police are required to investigate the evidence in preparation for possible indictments for war crimes.

"The evidence is in the public realm and obliges Israeli prosecutors to order investigations," he said. "The failure to do so is unreasonable conduct and the court must rectify the matter."

Official 'impunity'

The action is the first brought by Dalal under the auspices of Grotius, an organisation he founded last year to collect information on war crimes. Although Grotius' focus is on Israel and the occupied territories, it has also provided information to the special tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the killing in 2005 of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Head to Head - Dr Saeb Erekat (web extra)
The 52-page petition relates to three major military operations launched by Israel over a four-year period, in which many of the same officials were involved: the war against Lebanon in summer 2006, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008, and a naval attack in international waters on a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza in May 2010.

Israel has become increasingly fearful that its officials may face prosecutions for war crimes, either in third countries or, since the United Nations' vote in 2012 to upgrade the Palestinians' membership status, at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

One of the conditions insisted on by Israel and the US before launching the current peace talks, was that the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas promise not to apply for membership of international bodies, including The Hague court.

The Israeli legal system has launched a handful of criminal investigations into the actions of relatively low-ranking soldiers involved in Cast Lead. The three-week operation killed some 1,400 Palestinians, of which only 400 have been identified as fighters.