If I were Shaul Mofaz, I would by now be very worried indeed.
In Belgium, Ariel Sharon is standing trial for his part in the Sabra and Shatila events of 19 years ago. At first, he treated this as a joke. No more. Now he is spending a fortune (of our money) on this trial.
The prosecution argues that Sharon, then Israel’s Minister of Defense, being responsible for occupied Beirut, allowed a bunch of notorious murderers into the camps of defenseless refugees, where they indiscriminately killed men and women, old people and children. The Israeli Commission of Inquiry ordered his dismissal and charged him with “indirect responsibility”. The Belgian prosecutors are trying to charge him with direct responsibility.
Perhaps the trial will be abandoned, perhaps Sharon will be found not guilty. But if he is found guilty, an international warrant may be issued for his arrest and he will be liable to be arrested the moment he sets foot in Europe.
This is only a beginning. The international campaign against war crimes is progressing rapidly. A permanent International Court for war crimes is going to be set up. After Belgium, other countries will enact laws for the trial of foreign war criminals in their courts. The definition of war crimes will be widened, and so will the cooperation between states, especially in Europe.
The trial of an acting head of government for alleged war crimes committed 19 years ago is an important precedent. No less important is the decision handed down this week by the Israeli Supreme Court, denying Ehud Yatom the right to hold any important security position. Yatom murdered two bound prisoners in cold blood, with his own hands. This happened 17 years ago, when he was a high-ranking officer of the Shin-Beth security service. He maintained in his defense that he had only followed orders and acted according to existing “norms” (terrible words for a Jewish ear). At the time he had requested and received a pardon, thus practically admitting to the despicable deed.
(This was part of the infamous 1984 “bus line 300 affair”, the kidnapping of a bus by four unarmed Palestinian youngsters. Two were killed when the bus was stormed, the other two murdered after capture. Haolam Hazeh magazine, whose editor I was at the time, played a leading role in uncovering the crime.)
This coming summer, Shaul Mofaz is about to be relieved. That will be the end of his military career. Or will it?
In one, five or twenty years, somebody may get up and sue Mofaz in The Hague, Brussels or anywhere else for acts committed under his command. For example: the “liquidations”.
If this happens, Mofaz will have to explain to foreign judges why he initiated and ordered the murder of Palestinian personalities, including political figures. The prosecutors will probably argue that these were executions without trial, in which Mofaz and his officers served simultaneously as prosecutors, judges and hangmen.
The same goes for the so-called “ascertaining killing” (viduh harigah in Hebrew), meaning the killing of helpless wounded enemies. Over this contemptible act there flies the “black flag”, even under Israeli law. During the Mofaz’s term of command (and even before) this has become the norm.
Anyone who obeys such instructions (see Ehud Yatom) fulfils a “manifestly illegal order”, meaning an order which any sane person, as primitive as he may be, knows is illegal. (So defined by Judge Benjamin Halevy, presiding over the Court Martial, in his famous “black flag” judgment condemning the perpetuators of the 1956 Kufr Kassem massacre). It follows that the risk of prosecution hovers over many officers and soldiers, from general to simple private, who gave or executed such an order.
If anybody believes that this is an abstract danger, something merely theoretical or academic, he may sooner or later find out that he was sadly mistaken. The day may not be far off when an officer who commanded a “liquidation” action, the helicopter pilot who executed it, the lieutenant who ordered an “ascertaining killing” act and the simple soldier who did it é are all in constant fear when going abroad. And if the Israeli laws change when a different kind of government comes to power, as will surely happen one of these days, they will live in fear even in Israel.
Please remember: There is no time-limit. A grandfather playing with his grandchildren may be prosecuted for war crimes he committed when a youngster. And there is no exemption because of grade é the sword of justice may descend equally on a private soldier and on the Minister of Defense.
The triangle responsible at present for everything happening in the occupied territories é Shaul Mofaz, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ariel Sharon é would be well advised to have a good look at the photos of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague. Not long ago he was an omnipotent ruler, who could by a wink of his eyes authorize the murder of thousands of men (including young boys) or the rape of thousands of women (including young girls). Now he is in The Hague.
The way there may be shorter than it seems.