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Israeli Officials Lash out at Belgium After Court Opens Door to Sharon Trial

February 14, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israel issued stinging criticisms this week against Belgium following a controversial court ruling there.

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes — but it left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down.

The court also ruled that investigations could proceed against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who now serves as director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry. Along with Sharon, Yaron was named in the original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Following Wednesday’s ruling, Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Yehuda Kenar, for consultations. Netanyahu also summoned the Belgian ambassador to Israel for an urgent meeting.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said they are planning to launch an international diplomatic campaign to get the court ruling changed, Israel Radio reported.

There are no immediate plans to sever diplomatic relations with Belgium, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Belgian Supreme Court issued its ruling Wednesday following an appeal by Palestinian plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs want Sharon and other Israeli officials prosecuted for the killing of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militias in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the 1982 Lebanon War, when Sharon was Israel’s defense minister.

Belgian courts rejected the case last June, saying Belgian law does not allow for the prosecution of defendants who aren’t in Belgium.

Last month, however, the Belgian Senate adopted amendments to the country’s 1993 war crimes legislation, known as the “universal jurisdiction” law. The amendments allow Belgian prosecutors to investigate suspected war criminals even if they don’t live in Belgium.

Following his meeting with the Belgian ambassador Thursday, Netanyahu declared that Israel would not accept another European “blood libel against the Jewish people.”

Netanyahu said that the Belgian court’s decision was based on political interests and “dealt a blow” to global efforts to fight terrorism.

Netanyahu accused Belgium of “distorting the facts” about Israel “and permitting anti-Semitic speeches, which deny the rights of Jews to self-defense.”

He also said the ruling “will amount to granting a prize to terrorists.”

Israeli President Moshe Katsav also weighed in.

In a letter to Belgium’s King Albert II on Thursday, Katsav rejected Belgium’s moral right to bring Israeli leaders or army officers to trial.

Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit expressed his outrage in a scathing statement Thursday.

“It is unacceptable that this small and insignificant nation would be the judge for the whole world,” he said. “It is a disgrace for the legal system in that country. It has the clear scent of a personal hunt for Prime Minister Sharon, which originated from a deliberate Palestinian initiative.”

In its ruling Wednesday, the court upheld Sharon’s diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against nonresidents of Belgium. This means that there could be further legal moves once Sharon retires.

The court also ruled that investigations can now proceed against former Israeli army commanders who do not have diplomatic immunity, including Yaron.

Yaron, who was commander of army forces in Beirut during the Lebanon war, lashed out at the court’s decision, which he called “dangerous.”

“Belgium is taking upon itself the mission of world judge,” Yaron told Army Radio. “This is an attempt to rouse disorder in the world, in an inexplicable manner.”

Former legislator Rafael Eitan, who was army chief of staff at the time of the war in Lebanon, said he was not worried or threatened by the Belgian court’s decision.

Meanwhile, Jews in Belgium also attacked the court decision, with some saying they may bring war crimes charges in Belgian courts against Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

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