Bring Israeli war criminals to justice!

February 6, 2009

"The choice facing Israel in eight days time concerns peace, and the country can say yes to peace or no to peace … A dove of peace is sitting on the window ledge, and we can decide to open the window and let it in, with all the apprehension, or slam the window shut", Kadima party electoral candidate and current Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni told an international media conference on February 2.

It was a rare moment of misplaced truth for Livni, who has played a central part in justifying Israel's Gaza massacre to the world — a war that has continued despite claims of a "ceasefire".

On February 3, Al Jazeera reported further military attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces. Israel's attacks have targeted the border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt and other undisclosed locations.

Israel continues to blame "Hamas rockets" for their swift and brutal attacks on the territory.

Israeli defence minister and Labor party aligned electoral candidate, Ehud Barak, was quoted by AFP on February 4 as stating, "I suggest Hamas doesn't fool around with us".

"The air force is operating in Gaza as we speak. We promised calm in the south and we will keep our promise."

With Israel set to go to the polls this week, Israeli voters are faced with a choice of frontrunners outbidding each other in their support for the ongoing bludgeoning of Gaza and a furthering of Israel's apartheid project being committed against the Palestinian people.

It is a horrific picture. The same people who approved and directed the murdering rampage committed by the Israeli Defence Forces are now trying to champion this fact to win voters.

But while Livni and Barack are seeing a growth in their own popularity, the far-right Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu looks the likely victor.

He has set the agenda with firey calls for a toppling of Hamas and an attack on Iran, which he claims is leading a proxy war against Israel through Hamas.

Even the extreme right, such as the Yisrael Beteinu (Israel Our Home) party, which includes many previous members of the mainstream Zionist parties, are gaining new found support.

The world has seen more clearly than ever before the brutality of the Israeli state. But the ongoing apartheid nature of the state of Israel remains beneath the surface, unseen by many who rely on corporate media for their news feed.

It is this unspoken system that has been systematically built to see the rights of Israeli Jews prevail over all others in what was once Palestine.

Under this system, Palestinians witness their rights destroyed in the name of a state allegedly based on edicts passed down thousands of years ago.

Despite this, the potential for change exists just beneath the surface. As protests of tens of thousands within Israel have shown, a growing number of Israeli's are questioning their government's actions.

But like in any authoritarian society, this view is sidelined by the prevailing institutions and its proponents are ridiculed, slandered and persecuted.

The left-wing joint Palestinian-Jewish party, Hadash, will run alongside the Palestinian-Arab parties as lone voices of peace and justice in Israeli elections.

On January 21, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned a Central Electoral Committee (CEC) ruling that would have eliminated the democratic right of Arab parties to run in the Israeli elections. The legislation claimed that the Arab parties did not recognise Israel's right to exist and therefore should not be eligible for election.

Hadash are set to propose legislation that would ban the CEC from banning parties.

The fact that the CEC passed the ruling banning Arab parties proposed by the Yisrael Beteinu, showed the influence of the extreme right over Israeli politics.

United Arab List-Ta'al Knesset (parliament) member Ahmad Tibi welcomed the decision to overturn the ban, according to a January 21 article. He stated: "We have beaten fascism. This fight is over but the battle is not. Racism has become a trend in Israel …"

Balad chairperson and Knesset member Jamal Zahalka also explained: "This decision is a blow to Lieberman [of Yisrael Beteinu] and the fascist Right, as well as to Kadima, the Likud and Labor, which stood by the disqualification.

"Balad stands by its platform. The court's decision is a victory to the Arab public and to anyone who seeks democracy … we call on everyone to back the notion of 'a people's state' and a life of equality and no discrimination."

As a Hadash party spokesperson told Ha'aretz on February 3, many leftist voters, especially the young, are fed up with parties like Labor and Meretz that claim they are the "peace camp" while supporting further attacks on Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the campaign for a war crimes tribunal at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to bring Israeli leaders to justice for the crimes continues. The recent three-week long sustained military assault on Gaza killed more than 1300 including more than 400 children.

According to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 80% of those killed were civilians, with plenty of eyewitness accounts of Israeli forces deliberately targeting civilians.

Press TV reported on January 26: "The use of controversial chemical white phosphorous shells as well as indiscriminate firing during the offensive in the densely-populated coastal sliver are among accusations the Israeli military is facing."

Although the ICC is a treaty-based organisation, and both the US and Israel have refused to sign on, any countries that are signatories to the Geneva Conventions are able to seek to prosecute any individuals deemed culpable for war crimes, such as occurred during Israel's war on Gaza.

Governments in Bolivia, Venezuela and Iran, among others, are calling for those responsible to stand trial.

Even the US-sponsored West Bank Palestinian Authority government headed by Mahmoud Abbas has called for a war crimes tribunal, with justice minister Ali Khashan sending a brief letter on January 21 to the ICC requesting it to act.

But Israel has continued to deny the right of anyone to question their actions. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Associated Press on February 4: "The ICC charter is adhered to by sovereign states and the Palestinian Authority has not yet been recognized as one so it cannot be a member of the ICC."

It was a blunt reminder that Israel views the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza not as "sovereign", but outposts of Israeli colonial rule.

Press TV reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has responded to war crimes tribunal campaign by stating: "The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza."

The other option being considered by those in the legal community seeking justice for war crimes committed in Gaza is through the European Domestic Courts, which can use "universal jurisdiction" to charge alleged criminals with war crimes.

Israel was one of the first countries to invoke the principle of universal jurisdiction when its court system asserted its right to try Nazi chief Adolf Eichmann for crimes against humanity and war crimes during World War II.

Many in Israel consider the threat of such action as the most serious. As Daniel Reisner, the former head of the Israeli military's international division told Christian Science Monitor on February 4: "The danger to Israel now are those countries that have extra territorial jurisdiction that don't have a nationality requirement.

"The question is whether that is a major danger or a minor danger."

Daniel Machover, an Israeli-born British lawyer who works in coordination with the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, filed a warrant in 2005 with a British magistrates court for war crimes against Israeli reserve general Doron Almog in connection with the destruction of homes in Gaza.

Almog learned of this while on a plane that landed in London and escaped arrest by refusing to disembark.

Machover also helped bring before a Spanish court the case of the Israeli assassination of a Hamas military chief in 2002, carried out by a bombing that killed more than a dozen civilians in a Gaza neighbourhood.

In another case in 2001, former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon was charged with committing massacres during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Israel has offered legal defence to any soldier or politician implicated in a case. Israel has also tried to keep the identities of soldiers secret to protect them.

Unsurprisingly, the US has failed to support the call for war crimes charges over the Gaza war, however in her debut address as US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice asked Israel to investigate its own military for alleged war crimes.

But as the CSM explained, "an Israeli investigation is unlikely, given the conviction by most Israelis that the Israel military did its best to limit injury to civilians".

The campaign to have those responsible for war crimes in Gaza brought to justice is crucial to end impunity for those that carry out state-sponsored mass murder. It is also a crucial component of the campaign for justice for Palestine.

It should be added to the campaign for boycott, divestments and sanctions as an important part of offering solidarity to the people of Palestine.

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