Legal activism in Europe
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Legal activism in Europe

A growing number of lawyers and activists are utilizing European courts to prosecute Occupation military figures for war crimes. In Spain, an older case is moving forward, while in Norway a new war crimes investigation is beginning. UK lawyers have also expressed interest in pursuing this track, despite efforts by the British government to dissuade them from doing so. This legal activism is being utilized not only to prosecute war criminals, but also to push forward divestment by targeting companies like Veolia and Alstom which are engaged in violations of international law.

In Spain, Spanish National Court judge Fernando Andreu has vowed to pursue his investigation of the 2002 bombing in the Gaza Strip, when Occupation forces assassinated Salah Shehdeh using a 500 kg bomb. The blast killed Shehdeh and seventeen others, including his wife, his daughter, his guard, eight children (including a 2-month infant), two elderly men, and two women. Seventy-seven others were injured, eleven houses were leveled, and thirty-two other houses were damaged.

The Spanish National Court has a history of taking up human rights abuses throughout the world, ranging from Chile and Argentina to Tibet and Western Sahara.

This investigation has been met with opposition. Many prosecutors in the SNC have been attempting to have the case blocked ever since initial lawsuits were filed by human rights organizations in 2008. Israeli officials too, have retaliated to the SNC’s pursuit of the investigation, claiming that the proceedings are purely political in nature and that Occupation forces constitute the most “moral army in the world.”

Despite opposition, activists and lawyers in other countries have pushed more forcefully for war crimes investigations following the horrific 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, when 1,417 people were killed.

In light of this appalling number of casualties, public prosecutors in Norway said that they would they would study a complaint filed by a group of lawyers accusing Israeli leaders of war crimes. The group of Norwegian lawyers that filed the complaint, using a new law under which foreigners can be charged in Norway with war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, said in a statement that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, seven Israeli military officers, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmerd and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livi were responsible for “massive terror attacks primarily directed at the population in Gaza.”

Similar efforts have also been undertaken in the UK. However, the British government effectively blocked lawyers attempting to build war crimes cases by refusing to issue letters allowing them to enter the Gaza Strip. Daniel Machover, senior lawyer at London firm Hickman & Rose, who is also working on cases of war crimes in Gaza, claims that the British government seems determined to bar important witnesses from getting into the Gaza strip.

Legal investigations are an important and high profile aspect of holding Occupation officials accountable for their criminal actions. However, the legal avenue can also be instrumental in pushing for divestment. Most recently, the High Court of Nanterre has agreed to hear the legal claim brought by Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) against Veolia transport, Alstom and Alstom transport regarding the construction and operation of a light railway in East Jerusalem. In the end, pursing war criminals and effecting divestment are both key in the larger project of building up an effective global BDS campaign.