IDF to fight ‘war crimes’ charges

By Yaakov Katz, January 22, 2009

The IDF and Foreign Ministry are preparing to combat dozens of lawsuits they fear will be filed against IDF officers on war crimes charges.

Several NGOs have accused Israel of using disproportionate force during its three-week Gaza campaign. Amnesty International accused Israel of “indiscriminate” military force resulting in war crimes. Oxfam International has accused Israel of “massive and disproportionate violence... in violation of international law.”

The IDF has also launched an internal probe to determine if forces misused phosphorous shells, focusing on a reserves brigade that fired between 15 to 20 such shells in northern Gaza.

The brigade is under investigation for possibly using the weapon in urban areas near Beit Lahiya.

Amnesty International claimed it had found indisputable evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus in Gaza City.

The concern is that the NGOs or private individuals will file suits against officers in countries such as Spain, Italy and England where people have the right to present evidence and request indictments from magistrates.

In London in 2005, retired IDF general Doron Almog was warned not to disembark an El Al flight since police were waiting to arrest him on charges that he had ordered the demolition of homes in Rafah.

To counter the lawsuits, Defence Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the establishment of a team of military legal experts and intelligence officers to prepare evidence that could be used to defend officers if indicted abroad.

Officers who could be charged include IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, head of the Southern Command Maj-Gen Yoav Galant as well as the commanders of the Golani, Givati and Paratrooper’s brigades.

One senior officer downplayed the possibility that he would be charged with war crimes, saying: “In the worst case scenario, I won’t be able to visit Buckingham Palace for several years.”

But Amos Guiora, a law professor and a former senior officer in the IDF’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said that Israel had a strong defence case.

Israel’s decision to drop flyers over areas of Gaza and to call over 250,000 homes ahead of ground operations created the legitimate basis for the ensuing operation, he said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone files a charge sheet against these officers,” Mr Guiora said. “But Israel acted in classic self-defence based on the fact that this action came three years after Israel left the Gaza Strip and after it absorbed thousands of missiles.”

Last updated: 5:56pm, January 22 2009