Date: 25 June 2008
Time: 11:30 GMT
PCHR Submits Lawsuit against Israeli Officials via Spanish National Court
On 24 June 2008, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) filed a lawsuit at the National Court of Spain, the highest Spanish judicial council, against seven former senior Israeli military officials. These include former Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, his former military advisor, Michael Herzog, former Israeli Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz, former Commander of the Israeli Air Force, who are all suspected of committing a war crime in the Gaza Strip in July 2002.
PCHR filed this lawsuit on behalf of six Palestinians who survived an Israeli extra judicial execution operation in the Gaza Strip in July 2002. This is the first time survivors of an Israeli military attack have filed a lawsuit against members of the Israeli military in Spain. The National Court of Spain has accepted to examine the case, the first step towards launching a formal prosecution.
At approximately midnight on 22 July, 2002, an Israeli Air Force fighter jet dropped a 2,000 lbs. bomb on the house of Salah Shehada, Commander of Izzedeen El-Qassam Battalions, the armed wing of Hamas, who was living in the Daraj district of Gaza city. The bomb killed Salah Shehada and seventeen civilians, including his wife, his daughter, his guard, eight children (including a 2-month infant), two elderly men, and two women. In addition, seventy seven other people were injured, eleven houses were completely destroyed and thirty two houses damaged. The Government of Israel apparently confirmed to [former] Israeli Army Chief of Staff, General Moshe Ya’alon, that it was fully aware Shehada’s wife and daughter “Were close to him during the implementation of the assassination … and there was no way out of conducting the operation despite their presence.”
PCHR embarked on this ground-breaking lawsuit via the National Court of Spain after lengthy consultations with international legal experts indicted the possibility of such action with regard to lawsuits of war crimes. The Centre notes that similar cases have previously been filed in Israeli courts, but did not lead to successful prosecutions. On the contrary, the Israeli judiciary was used as a legal cover for the perpetration of war crimes, and as a tool to deliberately hinder international jurisdiction under the pretext of a “fair” national judicial system operating in Israel.
This PCHR lawsuit is part of continuing and rigorous efforts by the Centre to pursue Israeli war criminals under universal jurisdiction in courts in Switzerland, New Zealand, Britain and Spain. PCHR’s Spanish partners in this lawsuit are Antonio Segura, Gonzalo Boye, Juan Moreno and Raul Maillo, who have already worked on a number of high profile human rights cases, including representing victims of torture in Guatemala and the attempted prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet for the murder of Spanish citizens whilst he was president of Chile.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights previously filed a lawsuit in the UK against former Head of the Israeli Army Southern Commend, Doron Almog, for committing grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention during his army service, (considered a criminal offense in the UK under the Geneva Conventions of 1949) Almog arrived in the UK on 10 September 2005, after a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Having been informed of the warrant before he disembarked, Almog subsequently fled straight back to Israel on the same plane.
Background to Lawsuit
Antonio Segura, Gonzalo Boye, Raul Maillo and Juan Moreno, are prominent human rights lawyers with extensive experience of cases concerning International Law and Humanitarian Law. In addition to attempting to prosecute former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was subsequently held in Britain for more than one year, they also represented the case of Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman who was killed by US troops in Baghdad, Iraq, as well as representing victims of torture in Guatemala, and victims of the September 2004 Madrid bombing. They have subsequently become well known by human rights and solidarity groups around the world for their commitment to representing victims of human rights abuses. This lawsuit has been filed jointly with the Spanish lawyers and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) on behalf of the Centre’ Director, Raji Sourani, and is the first lawsuit of its kind to be filed in Spain.
This lawsuit is the result of more than two year’s collaborative work between Palestinian human rights organizations (including the Arab Cause Solidarity Committee and the Al-Quds Association for Solidarity with People in Arab Countries) and Spanish civil society organizations that focus on justice for Palestinians. PCHR commends the decision of the National Court of Spain to examine this case further, and welcomes Spain’s decision to join the group of countries, whose courts have accepted cases against the Israeli military. To date, Great Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United States and New Zealand have also accepted cases against the Israeli military. PCHR regards this as an extremely positive step towards ensuring that victims of these war crimes eventually receive justice.