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January 23, 2009 – In the shadow of threatened international legal action against Israeli leaders following Operation Cast Lead, Shurat Hadin: The Israel Law Center became the first group to launch a legal counterattack Thursday.
The organization sent a request to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to charge Hamas members captured during the campaign with war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the letter, the NGO argues that Israel is required under international law to try Hamas operatives for those offenses as opposed to the usual charges such as murder, membership in a terror organization and illegal weapons possession, for which Hamas members usually face trial.
Hamas, the letter said, was in violation of the Geneva Convention in firing rockets at civilian targets, and that violation constitutes a war crime. Furthermore, it argued, systematically targeting Israeli civilians violated the Hague Convention and constituted a crime against humanity. But why should Israel prosecute? The legal Israel-advocacy organization used the same justification as Israel’s opponents to justify indicting Israeli military and civilian leaders overseas – that any country that is party to the fourth Geneva Convention is mandated to try any war criminals. “As the Europeans, the Arab states and the United Nations are calling for an investigation of the IDF’s actions in Gaza, Israel must ride the same wave and bring to trial the Hamas members who were caught for war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Shurat Hadin chairwoman attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner. “In the year 2008 alone, thousands of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip against innocent Israeli civilians. Israel has an ethical obligation to try Hamas activists who attacked civilian targets and to show the world that Hamas’s rocket attacks constituted war crimes carried out during this war.”
The appeal to Mazuz came on the same day that Lorenzo Cremonesi, a lead reporter for the Milan-based Corriere della Serra, reported that his research in the Gaza Strip indicated that Hamas gunmen violated international humanitarian law by using civilians as human shields, dressing combatants up as medics and driving in commandeered ambulances and using UN buildings to launch rockets. Only one day earlier, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s trip to address her European counterparts in Brussels almost ran aground after rumors circulated in the Israeli Arab press that an arrest order was going to be issued for her upon arrival. While former and current IDF officers are indeed at risk for such arrest warrants, current cabinet members are likely immune from foreign indictment for war crimes.