Spain to stop investigations of Israeli war crimes

A day after a Spanish court ordered an investigation into an assassination of a Palestinian militant in 2002, the Spanish government has said it will cancel the investigation, and change the law to prevent such investigations being undertaken in the future.

The moves came after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni telephoned the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos on Friday. Livni said after the call Moratinos told her he ‘would fix it.’

The Spanish judge on Thursday ruled the assassination of Salah Shehadeh by an F-16 air strike on a home on July 22 2002, which resulted in fifteen people killed, including nine children, and more than 100 wounded, should be investigated as a war crime. He placed seven current and former Israeli government and military officials, including two current ministers, under investigation. They are Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was defense minister at the time, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who was then heading the Shin Bet agency, Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Ya’alon, who was chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, the then commander of the Israel Air Force, Doron Almog, who was OC Southern Command, then-National Security Council chief Giora Eiland, and the defense minister’s military secretary, Mike Herzog.

Moratinos, according to Israel Radio, has since told Livni his government will amend the authority of the Spanish courts to prevent such investigations from being launched in the future and limit the courts’ jurisdiction.

Livni told Moratinos, “This is very important news for the Israeli public. Unfortunately, the legal systems in the free world are used by parties with interests who have no connection whatsoever to the rule of law or the values of the free world.”

“It’s a good thing that the Spanish government has decided to stop this phenomenon. Israel will continue to work with other governments in the world in a bid to stop similar groundless prosecutions.”

Moratinos told Livni the change in the law could not be done in time to prevent the current investigation from proceeding, but his office would work to annul the investigation, Israel’s Army Radio broadcast in a report late Friday.

On July 22 2002 an Israel Air Force F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb on the building housing Shahade, his wife and child. The blast destroyed many adjacent houses in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City, killing Shehade and fourteen civilians, including 9 children, and wounding more than one hundred others.

There was widespread international condemnation of the attack at the time. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan “deplored” the incident, saying, “The government of Israel must halt such actions and it must conduct itself in a manner which does not allow for the killing of innocent civilians.”

The European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana strongly condemned, “the death of innocent civilians in last night’s attack against Gaza,” while British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said, “The action taken last night, which resulted in the deaths of children among others in a missile attack in Gaza, is unacceptable and counterproductive.”

Even the United States, a close ally of Israel, was critical of the operation. Then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described the Israeli actions as “heavy handed” and said it “does not contribute to peace.”

Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon however, expressing concern about the civilians killed, described the operation as one of Israel’s biggest successes. “We have no interest to hurt innocent civilians and are always sorry about civilians that are hurt but this action, according to me, is one of our biggest successes,” he said.

Not all in Israel however agreed with the operation. Yesh Gvul, the leader of an organization of Israel Defense Forces reservists who oppose service in the territories, filed a petition requesting the Israeli army’s chief military advocate general launch a criminal investigation into the assassination. The petition was refused. However in 2007 the State Prosecutor’s Office told the Israel High Court an independent commission of inquiry would be set up to investigate the incident.

“We recognize there are special circumstances that apply to this case,” Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan told the High Court at the time. “We therefore agree to an examination of the case by an objective, state-appointed committee.”

Irish Sun