The Suit Against Sharon in Belgium: A Case Analysis

, September 5, 2007

“In 1982 during the Lebanon War, Lebanese Christian militias murdered hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilah. In June 2001, several survivors and family members of the victims submitted a complaint in a Belgian court that was not directed against the murderers, many of whom were known. The claim instead named as defendants Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli chief of staff in 1982 Rafael Eitan, and the then head of Northern Command, General Amos Yaron.”

Irit Kohn at the time was head of the International Department of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. This department is responsible for, among other things, extradition issues and legal assistance. She headed the Israeli defense team.

“At the time of the submission Belgian law had universal jurisdiction as far as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide were concerned. It did not require any connection to the country involved. Any private citizen, in Belgium or elsewhere in the world, could submit a complaint against anybody to the Belgian court system that could serve as a claim for criminal prosecution there.”

A Political Act

“After the complaint, a committee of Israeli experts was formed. It included Danny Shek, who was director of the Western Europe section at the Foreign Ministry, Daniel Saada, a lawyer and Israeli diplomat in Belgium, Allon Geilert, a lawyer from the Prime Minister’s Office, and myself. We worked together very well, and nothing was leaked of our deliberations. After some time Efraim Halevy also joined us. He had been Israeli ambassador to the EU in Brussels and had many contacts there.

“Nineteen years had passed since the mass murders by the Lebanese Christian militias. The complaint seemed a politically motivated act. The complainants waited until Sharon became prime minister of Israel. They wanted him to be subject to a criminal prosecution for alleged war crimes. They saw him as responsible for the murders by Israel’s Christian allies in the two refugee camps. They claimed that as Sharon was Israeli defense minister in 1982 and collaborated with these militias, he should have known that if they came to these camps there would be a massacre.”

About Irit Kohn

Irit Kohn, Esq., joined the Israel Ministry of Justice in 1989 and from 1995 to 2005 was director of its International Affairs Department. In that position she was involved in one of the first cases involving universal jurisdiction as head of the legal team defending Prime Minister Sharon in Belgium in 2001. In 2011, she was elected President of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.