"Fighting Terror" v. The Rule of Law

January 31, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

JERUSALEM, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Israel said on Friday the Spanish government had said it would work to amend a law under which a Madrid court is to consider trying seven Israelis over the killing of Palestinians.

Spain’s High Court announced this week it would launch a war crimes investigation into a Israeli ex-defence minister and six other top security officials for their role in a 2002 attack that killed a Hamas commander and 14 civilians in Gaza.

Spanish law allows the prosecution of foreigners for such crimes as genocide, crimes against humanity and torture committed anywhere in the world.

“I was just told by the Spanish foreign minister that Spain decided to change the legislation,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told journalists after a telephone conversation with her Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.

“In order to change the possibility of different organisations, political organisations, to abuse the legal system in Spain in order to put charges against Israelis and others that are fighting terror.”

Spain’s Foreign Ministry did not reply to repeated telephone requests for confirmation.

Spanish state television TVE quoted government sources as saying the possibility of a legal “adjustment or modification” may have been mentioned, but it would not be retroactive and would not affect the case before the courts.

The case, filed on behalf of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, has sent shockwaves through Israel, which is trying to fend off foreign censure over the civilian casualty toll from its 22-day offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Calls to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes in Gaza conflict prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.

Any government-initiated changes to Spanish law would have to be approved by congress. TVE said Spain would not renounce universal jursidiction, which has been on its statute books since 1870.

Livni, who gave no details on how Spain planned to amend the law or handle the case against Israel, said of her conversation with Moratinos:

“I think that this is very important news and I hope that other states in Europe will do the same, and will follow this.” (Writing by Dan Williams; additional reporting by Jason Webb and Martin Roberts in Madrid; editing by Andrew Roche)

Livni says Spain to drop universal legislation

01.30.2009 |
Associated Press

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday that her Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos informed her that Spain would scale back the authority of its courts following a much-publicized investigation into alleged Israel war crimes.

“I just heard from the Spanish Foreign Minister, Moratinos, that Spain has decided to change its legislation in connection with universal jurisdiction and this can prevent the abuse of the Spanish legal system,” Livni told the Associated Press. “I think this is very important news and I hope that other states in Europe will do the same.”

A Spanish judge began an investigation Thursday into seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed a top Hamas militant, Salah Shehadeh, and 14 other people, including nine children.

The judge acted under a doctrine that allows prosecution in Spain, and other European countries, to reach far beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes. The “universal jurisdiction” ruling sparked outrage in Israel and elsewhere.

One of the Israelis the court aimed to investigate on Friday called the charges “propaganda.” Former military chief of staff Moshe Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio that he was “not worried” about standing trial. Yaalon, now a candidate for parliament for the Likud Party, said the goal of the Spanish court decision was to delegitimize Israel and “present us as war criminals.”

Cabinet Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, another Israeli official targeted, called the Spanish court decision “ludicrous.”

“Terror organizations use the courts of the free world and the mechanisms of democratic nations to file suit against a country that operates against terror,” Ben-Eliezer, the defense minister at the time of the 2002 bombing, said in a statement. “I do not regret my decision. Salah Shehadeh was a Hamas activist, an arch-murderer whose hands were stained with the blood of about 100 Israelis and who carried out the most heinous attacks against our citizens.”

Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak also issued a statement in which he said: “Whoever calls the killing of a terrorist a ‘crime against humanity’ is living in an upside down world.”

Israel’s Justice Ministry announced Friday that it had transferred material regarding the case to Spanish authorities. It criticized the opening of the case and expressed hope it would be closed soon.

“There is no doubt that this is a cynical political attempt by anti-Israel elements to abuse the Spanish court system and attack Israel,” the ministry said in a statement. “The State of Israel is determined to act against these types of lawsuits in Spain and in other countries with legal and diplomatic means.”

Spain denies Israeli claim that it is to limit Universal Juristiction

01.31.2009 |
By h.b.

Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livno, had claimed that Spain was going to change the legislation under which the Spanish National Court hears cases from other countries.

Spain has denied a claim by the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, who had claimed that her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, had told her that Spain would be changing the legislation regarding the National Court hearing cases from other countries under the concept of Universal Jurisdiction.

There has been harsh criticism from Israel against the Spanish National Court decision from judge, Fernando Andreu, to accept the case from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and to indict six Israeli soldiers and a previous Minister of Defence for crimes against humanity for dropping a ton bomb on Gaza in 2002. The attack killed their target, a Hamas leader, but also 14 civilians.

The Israeli Ambassador to Spain, Raphael Schutz, has said that in judging his country Spain has lost direction and he claimed the case had the end wish to question the very existence of Israel.

The argument of Universal Justice is based on article 23 of the Organic Law for Judicial Power in Spain.

A statement from the Spanish Government has now denied the words of Livni and said that it has no wish to limit the principle of Universal Justice, but it would look at making procedural changes, but in any case these would not be retroactive or affect this case.

Meanwhile, Hayat, a Palestinian woman, has been celebrating the granting of Spanish nationality for her children who are being held by her husband in Gaza. The mother now wants to recover the children and bring them to Spain. The nationality decision was granted after the personal intervention of Queen Sofía.