On Wednesday, the Belgian Supreme Court ruled on appeal that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be tried before a Belgian court for alleged war crimes, but only after he leaves office. For now, the court ruled, Mr. Sharon has immunity from prosecution under Belgian law.
The petitioners in the Belgian case are survivors and relatives of victims of the 1982 massacre of Arabs in Sabra and Shatila, which was carried out by the Maronite Phalangist militia during Israel’s Operation Peace for Galilee. Sharon was defense minister at the time of the IDF operation, which targeted the PLO terrorist canton that had been established in southern Lebanon. The Maronite Christians of the region had allied themselves with the Jewish state in the hopes of freeing Lebanon of PLO tyranny. In the context of this alliance, and with the intention to transfer authority to a free Southern Lebanon, Israel allowed the Maronite militia to go in and root out PLO terrorists who had taken refuge in the two camps. Unfortunately, the militiamen behaved with limited restraint and killed up to 800 people, including 35 women and children.
Ariel Sharon and then-IDF chief of staff Rafael Eitan undoubtedly failed to anticipate the less-than-honorable behavior of the Christian militiamen in the PLO enclave, but it is hardly a “war crime” to expect moral behavior from an ally.
Let us be as blunt as possible: Arabs massacred Arabs, yet a Jew is being held responsible.
In contrast, there has been no international suits, no Arab outrage, as a result of the massacre carried out in the same Shatila camp, just three years later, by Muslim militiamen. In that bloodbath, according to United Nations officials, 635 people were killed and 2,500 wounded. All told, Lebanese factions and sects spent a good part of the 1970s and ’80s repeatedly attacking each other, leading to the deaths of about 95,000 people.
One such Arab-on-Arab massacre involved that world-renowned Nobel Prize laureate, PLO leader Yasser Arafat. In that brutal 1976 assault on the Christian city of Damour, 582 people were killed and the remaining 25,000 residents fled in fear. The Church of St. Elias, gutted by PLO grenades, was turned into a combination garage and gun range, with targets painted on the eastern wall of the nave. Arafat, of course, has yet to be charged in a Belgian court — or any other — for his war crimes against the Christians of south Lebanon.
However, charges were filed against Arafat in a Belgian court by relatives of Jewish victims of PLO terrorism through the years. Those charges were initially filed in November of 2001 and the case has yet to go to trial even once, with the court unconscionably dragging its feet. Au contraire, last year, the foreign minister of Belgium called on the European Union to reconsider commercial ties with Israel, calling Israel’s refusal to permit EU officials to meet in Ramallah with Yasser Arafat an “affront” to the European community. On the other hand, the case against Ariel Sharon, also originally filed about two years ago, has already had time to come before Belgian courts three times, including Wednesday’s appeal. One might be tempted to accuse the Belgians of having (hard to believe) an ulterior motive.
Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the latest Belgian Supreme Court decision in the Sharon case “scandalous” and has recalled the Israeli ambassador “for consultations.” Netanyahu was being extremely generous and diplomatic in his description. Even the former prime minister, beloved of Europe, Labor party Knesset member Shimon Peres had sharp words for the Belgians. Belgium has no right to place itself as the “judge of history,” Peres said.
Well, if Belgium is to be a “judge of history,” let it begin at home. While it is unlikely that anyone who was involved in the genocidal exploitation of the Congo Free State by the Belgian monarch is still alive, the fact is that the Congo remained an oppressed Belgian colony until 1960. In another Belgian colony, Rwanda, Hutu resistance in the first half of the 1900s was brutally suppressed by the ruling Tutsis, under the watchful eye of the Belgian authorities. Then, in the 1950s, when a rebellion of Hutu agricultural laborers broke out, the Belgian colonialists encouraged a new campaign of incitement against the Tutsis, to divert attention from themselves. Meanwhile, back home, during World War II, Belgian collaborationist authorities deported 35,000 Jews — fully half of the Belgian Jewish population at the time — to German gas chambers.
Is it really any surprise that Belgium had no qualms about helping France and Germany block plans for NATO to protect member-state Turkey from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?
While Belgium may see itself as the “judge of history,” history won’t likely be kind to Belgium — even if there is no court to which Belgium’s victims can appeal.
— Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, who lives in Israel, is opinion editor at www.IsraelNationalNews.com. His commentaries have been published internationally and translated into several languages.