Middle East Monitor / January 6, 2020
A supposed Israeli “civil rights” lawyer once wrote an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post under the headline “Israel needs to invade The Hague”. The writer was Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, then the founder-director and now the president of Shurat HaDin — the Israel Law Centre — which is actually a front for Israeli spy agencies.
If anyone thinks that we should allow Darshan-Leitner the all-too-common “I didn’t write the headline” defence, and suspect that she wasn’t quite arguing for a literal invasion of the International Criminal Court, the text of her opinion piece written exactly ten years ago made it quite clear: she was arguing for exactly that.
I thought again about Darshan-Leitner’s old piece last month when the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, finally – after a five-year preliminary investigation – announced that she was opening a formal investigation into war crimes committed in Palestine. Israel’s fanatically right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded belligerently, claiming that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the occupied Palestinian territories.
So is Israel about to invade The Hague, the Dutch city that hosts the ICC and other international justice bodies? Although stranger things have happened, it seems unlikely, which only makes it more bizarre that the leader of an Israeli “law centre” would make such outrageous threats in 2009.
Darshan-Leitner made her preposterous argument based around a law that the George W Bush administration had signed into the statue books back in 2002. Nicknamed “the Hague Invasion Act”, the new law meant that the US had unilaterally given itself the right to invade any country in order to free a US citizen being held by the court.
Short of the unforeseen rise of an independent, anti-imperialist, socialist leader coming to power in Amsterdam, the prospect of a US invasion of the Netherlands — a small European country that offers precisely zero threat to the Americans — is vanishingly remote. However, the American Service-Members’ Protection Act was an attempt by the US to threaten, disrupt and abort the formation of the ICC.
The US then, like Israel now, was afraid of prosecutions against its armed forces’ officers and politicians due to its long history of military invasions and war crimes, including the then imminent new set of war crimes it was about to commit when it invaded Iraq a few months later.
Arguing that Israel should follow Washington’s lead and enact a similar law, allotting to itself the same aggressive, unilateral powers, Darshan-Leitner wrote that: “The government should be empowered to utilise all necessary force to resist any effort to arrest IDF [Israel Defence Forces] officers accused of war crimes anywhere in the world. Foreign countries should be made to understand we mean business.” The latter phrase — “we mean business” — is the language of gangsters and thugs, which just about sums up what the Israeli and US governments are.
Darshan-Leitner’s piece advocated a literal invasion of The Hague precisely because the threat of war crimes prosecutions was something that Israel took seriously. That in itself remains a tacit acknowledgement that its actions over the years do indeed include war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined clearly by international laws and conventions.
That Darshan-Leitner is a semi-covert representative of Israeli state power is no longer contested. In 2013, her organisation Shurat HaDin was revealed to be essentially a front group for the Mossad, and other Israeli spy agencies. Although it markets itself as an independent civil rights organisation “unaffiliated with any political party or governmental body”, a secret US Embassy document published by WikiLeaks proved that Shurat HaDin “took direction… on which cases to pursue” and “receives evidence” from the Mossad and Israel’s National Security Council.
What’s more, all of Shurat HaDin’s actions over the years show that it has a hard-line Zionist agenda, fully compatible with that of Israel’s fanatical intelligence-security apparatus. Its targets for “lawfare” are also the state’s targets: armed Palestinian resistance groups and civil society Palestinian resistance groups, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), alike.
These are the actions of a cut-out for state power, not the actions of an independent civil rights group. Darshan-Leitner explained the need for such deception in 2012: “The Israeli government has some constraints, has some problems: they have to be politically correct. They have foreign relationships, they have international treaties they are signed of and they cannot do what private lawyers can do.”
After WikiLeaks blew her cover, Darshan-Leitner eventually all but dropped the pretence. She admitted in her 2017 book Harpoon that her group was intimately tied to the Mossad from its outset. These contacts “evolved into regular briefings, held in quiet cafes” and they would “get tip-offs about suspect finances to focus on during the US courts’ discovery hearings.”
Shurat HaDin is notorious for attacking Palestine solidarity organisations with frivolous lawsuits. Legally, it almost always fails. In the process, though, it does manage to cause pro-Palestine activists big problems, and that is precisely its objective.
What prompted Darshan-Leitner’s 2009 article was something that both Shurat HaDin and the Mossad were worried about: Israel being held accountable for its war crimes. In 2005 she had written that “a disaster had just narrowly been averted in the UK.” This was a reference to when Doron Almog, an Israeli major-general, “was disembarking from an El Al flight in London when he was warned at the last moment by the embassy’s military attaché that a warrant had been issued by a British magistrate for his arrest for allegedly violating the Geneva Convention in carrying out house demolitions in Gaza.” During the Second Intifada, the Israeli army demolished entire neighbourhoods in Gaza and the West Bank, a particularly cruel form of collective punishment.
“Almog remained on the plane and returned to [Israel] unharmed,” the Mossad cut-out explained. “Although, British foreign minister Jack Straw eventually apologised for the incident and the warrant was cancelled, IDF officers are still wary of visiting the UK.”
Hopefully, if the ICC investigation results in real prosecutions, Israeli army officers will again be afraid to visit Britain, or anywhere else for that matter. Let us hope that this remains the case for a very long time to come.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East