Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Israel faces legal challenge in ICJ ruling 8-24-04

By Ray Hanania

When the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel's wall was a violation of the civil rights of the Palestinians, Israel did what it always does when an international body says something it doesn't like: denounced the criticism and ignored it.

But recently, Israel's attorney general admonished his government, saying the nation cannot ignore the ICJ ruling. Why now? The reason is simple. Israel's Attorney General Meni Mazuz recognizes the ICJ ruling is a matter of law, not opinion.

Although you can maneuver around decisions from nonjudicial based organizations like the United Nations, you can't ignore the world court. The United Nations is a good example. Most people miss the irony that Israel was founded by a U.N. General Assembly decree.

Yet today, Israel routinely ignores all of the U.N.'s decrees. Unless they come from the U.N. Security Council, U.N. resolutions lack the power of the rule of law. They are political resolutions based on legal precedents, but are nonbinding.

And Israel doesn't worry about the U.N. Security Council because there, Israel's ally, the United States, always vetoes any resolution of censure. It is the same with other organizations, like Amnesty International, which earlier this year denounced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as constituting "war crimes."

The United States, which has one member on the ICJ, tried to block the court's ruling, but failed. The implications of the ICJ ruling, as Mazuz fully recognizes, cannot be brushed off with clever public relations, media manipulation or the power of the Israeli lobby.

What could happen? With the ICJ ruling, a resident of the occupied territories could file a lawsuit claiming injury against Israel.

Claims of that nature are well founded in fact. Israel violates the civil rights of Palestinian civilians with impunity. When it fires an American-made missile from a helicopter into an apartment building to kill a man "accused" (never convicted in a court of law) of terrorism, and then ends up killing 10 civilians who happened to be sleeping in their beds in nearby apartments, those civilians have a case. Relatives of murdered civilians have legal claims against Israel, which the ICJ ruling make easier to prosecute. So too do Palestinian prisoners abused and mistreated by Israel.

While it has not received much play in the pro-Israel media, it has been alleged that much of the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq involved individuals who received some training from Israeli security personnel who have honed the fine art of torture and civilian humiliation.

Until now, all that the Palestinian victims of Israeli oppression have had on their side to enforce their claims is the backing of the United Nations, Amnesty International, and nearly every major world organization dedicated to preserving civil rights.

They also have the support of most individual champions of civil rights like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, but why get picky? Palestinian rights can be ignored by Israel and the United States because world moral outrage has no legal standing. But the International Court of Justice is a different story.

With the recent ICJ ruling, Palestinian civilians can file lawsuits against Israel that would make the claims of the victims of the Holocaust itself seem weak. Palestinian prisoners, who are on a hunger strike in Israeli jails complaining of abuse, torture and mistreatment, can now prosecute their claims, too.

And so can the millions of Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled from their homes by Israel in 1947 but whom Israel refuses to recognize. The ICJ ruling is a rock solid legal precedent.

It places a powerful lien on Israel that cannot easily be removed. As Mazuz, a lawyer, correctly notes, the ICJ ruling might one day come back to haunt Israel. And that day might come very soon.

Even Americans who allow Israel to commit crimes they would never personally tolerate themselves would find it hard to ignore the very principle that makes America stand out from all other nations.

Most Americans have faith in the judicial system and the rulings of the court. Just ask Oprah Winfrey, who recently sat as a member of a murder case jury in Chicago.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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