Brave Judge, Cowardly Government

May 5, 2009

In News

A Spanish judge said Monday he plans to continue an investigation into a 2002 Israeli bombing that killed 15 people, including a suspected Hamas militant, in Gaza City.

Judge Fernando Andreu of Spain’s National Court said while Israel’s military conducted its own internal investigation into the bombing, he has seen no evidence the country’s military or civilian prosecutors are looking into the matter.

“In Israel there has not been, nor is there now under way, any legal proceedings aimed at investigating the Gaza bombing,” the judge wrote.

For that reason, Spain has jurisdiction to continue investigating whether the bombing was a crime against humanity, said Andreu.

Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes, based on a doctrine known as universal jurisdiction. If an indictment is issued, it clears the way for international arrest warrants, and — in theory, at least — extradition to Spain.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the judge’s decision “ridiculous” and groundless, while Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Monday he plans to ask Spain’s government to intervene and prevent the investigation.

“There isn’t a more ethical army than the Israel Defence Forces. I have no doubt that those who acted then to hit Shehadeh acted with a clear head and an eye locked on one target only — to protect Israeli civilians,” said Barak.

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, hailed Andreu’s decision as a “great victory.”

The Spanish probe is examining the role of seven senior current or former Israeli army and security officers in the 2002 Gaza City bombing. Fifteen people, including suspected Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh, were killed when an Israeli fighter jet dropped a bomb into the densely populated area.

Israel has defended the attack as a legitimate strike against a terrorist.

The subjects of the Spanish probe include former Israeli defence minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former Israel army chief of staff Dan Halutz and five other current or former army and security officials.