A small legal team in the Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin — Israel Law Center has been busy compiling damning files against Palestinian Authority leaders, documenting their supposed involvement in terror activities in recent years.
The purpose of this endeavor, Israel Law Center chairwoman and founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told The Times of Israel this week, is to deter the Palestinian leadership from joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) and legally pursuing Israeli leaders at The Hague, as Palestinians have been threatening to do for months.
In September, Darshan-Leitner and her team launched this proactive approach by filing a lawsuit against Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at the ICC for Hamas’s execution of suspected collaborators with Israel during Operation Protective Edge. On November 10, they filed a second suit against PA President Mahmoud Abbas for attacks carried out by his Fatah movement from Gaza. Both leaders are Jordanian nationals, and therefore fall under the court’s jurisdiction.
“The crimes of the [Second] Intifada are crimes against humanity. Daily, systematic rocket fire directed at civilian populations is an international crime,” she said. “We’re preparing indictments against PA leaders for the day the PA applies for membership in the ICC. We’re essentially warning PA leaders that ‘the moment you become members, we’ll be waiting for you there with a handful of indictments on war crimes, directed at you personally.'”
Darshan-Leitner stressed that the purpose of the war crimes complaints against the Palestinian officials was to deter them from joining the ICC, to “tell them they’re playing with fire.” If that purpose is met, she noted, the ICC can stall the case proceedings, or the Israel Law Center can withdraw the complaints altogether. “But the moment they join, it’s game over. It will be like sniper fire.”
Judging by Abbas’s recent statements, Darshan-Leitner’s tactic may be working. Addressing the Arab League on November 29, Abbas began his speech by informing the gathering of “an Israeli claim pending against me personally at the ICC now.
‘The Israeli government is acting like an ostrich. I can’t really explain its ineptitude’
“The Israelis beat us to it and filed the first claim against us,” Abbas continued. Israeli officials contacted by The Times of Israel at the time had no idea what Abbas was referring to.
Darshan-Leitner acknowledged that her group was working independently of the Israeli government, which, she claimed, “was sticking its head in the sand.
“The Israeli government is acting like an ostrich. I can’t really explain its ineptitude. You can’t wait around here. The state is looking for good defense arguments [against criminal action], but I’m not sure it will ever have the chance to use them. We know that Israel has so far refused to cooperate with any international tribunal, such as the Goldstone Fact Finding Mission [following the Gaza war of 2009], or the Schabas Commission [following Operation Protective Edge in 2014].
“I imagine Israel won’t cooperate too closely with the ICC either, so I don’t know why it’s bothering with these defense arguments. Who will listen to them? These European judges, whose positions on IDF soldiers are well known? We have 15 jurists working at the international department of the State Attorney’s Office. What are they working on? Nothing.”
The lawsuits against Palestinian leaders had no diplomatic significance for Israel but merely “deterrent significance,” Darshan-Leitner adamantly argued, explaining why her organization was not cooperating with the government.
“Everyone in the world knows that Abbas and Mashaal are war criminals,” she said, noting that this was the first time a legal claim was being filed by her office against Palestinian political figures.
Founded in 2003, the Israel Law Center has been quite successful in winning significant compensation from international courts in terror-funding cases. In May 2012, a US court ordered the Syrian government to pay $330 million to the family of Danial Wultz, a 16-year-old American national who was killed in a 2006 Tel Aviv suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad.
The organization has filed lawsuits over the past decade against international banks involved in terror funding, including the Bank of China, UBS, LCB and the Arab Bank. It has targeted states including Iran, Syria, Egypt and North Korea, as well as world leaders ranging from former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to former US president Jimmy Carter.
‘Everyone in the world knows that Abbas and Mashaal are war criminals’
In some cases, Darshan-Leitner argued, lawfare can even save lives. Ahead of a planned flotilla set to leave Greece for Gaza in May 2011, the Israel Law Center, in collaboration with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Israel Defense Forces, sent threatening letters to insurance and satellite communications companies informing them that they would bear criminal responsibility under US law for any service rendered to the pro-Palestinian activists.
“Eventually, we caused the cancellation of the flotilla,” she said.
“In the first flotilla [from Turkey in May 2010] there was a big battle on board, people were killed and soldiers injured. It was a disaster. So ahead of the second flotilla, we decided not to wait. You can’t just wait and remain on the defensive. Defense is no good when it comes to anarchists; they need to be attacked in advance.”