BBC Transcript 12 January 2014


Chibli Mallat interviewed by James Coomarasamy on Sharon and the case of the Sabra and Shatila victimsEdited transcript

BBC World Service, Weekend program, aired on 12 January 2014 (available until 19 Jan 2014)

Interviewer (James Coomarasamy): “Chibli Mallat is a human rights lawyer who brought the case of the victims in Sabra and Shatila to a court in Belgium under universal jurisdiction. Did he think that with the death of Ariel Sharon and opportunity to get justice for victims had been lost?!”

Mallat: “They had that day in court in Brussels, and they won the case. This is something that cannot be taken away from them: the supreme court of Belgium, the last instance [of the Belgian judiciary], on the 12 of February 2003, decided that they had a good cause for the investigation to go ahead. What happened is that the legislature in Belgium had to yield to American pressure which was relentless in order to stop the proceedings and so the law was retroactively changed — I think this was a first in the history of the First and Second World War in Europe, and the proceedings were stopped. Meanwhile, the case against Sharon had won its merits, and the investigations had started again, and the man had been put in the dock and put on the accusation for crimes against humanity, so the victims of Sabra and Shatila had an important victory.”

Coomarasamy : “But you are disappointed I think by the lack of support for them as human beings by Jewish Israelis?”

Mallat: “Well as you well know, the greatest demonstration in Israel had taken place after Sabra and Shatila, and so there was a very strong spontaneous reaction against the horrors of Sabra and Shatila back in 1983 after the Kahan commission had found Sharon responsible for the massacres. My own regret is that the senior colleagues in the Israel judiciary did not express openly support for the case. I think it would have been a complete change of the whole Middle Eastern scene where the usual violence was replaced by a nonviolent system that went through the court.”

Coomarasamy : “But ultimately though even if the court in Belgium condemned him, he was vindicated in the court of public opinion in Israel. Wasn’t he? Because he was elected as the prime minister?!”

Mallat: “Exactly yes, my sense has always been that the idea that Sharon was a bulldozer, a warrior as he called himself in his Memoirs, is not something that is associated only with one person, he couldn’t have done it without serious support from a large part of Israeli society.”

Coomarasamy : “What about the decision he did take on his own certainly you know laterally to withdraw from Gaza. You have a rather more positive view of that.”

Mallat: “I do and I think, actually I believe that Sharon was very scared by the case against him and effectively he panicked. My sense, and of course I have no indication or proof for this, is that something snapped [because of the case]. It was very surprising to everyone that he would withdraw from Gaza, and dismantle the settlements that he originally had put in.”

Coomarasamy : “So for you that is an act of panic rather than pragmatism?”

Mallat: “Definitely.

[This is also why] he wasn’t able to engage in a different legacy like the South African De Klerk or someone like Mikhail Gorbachev who was essentially a dictator. They did face up to a past which was unsustainable and changed radically. Sharon missed the opportunity but it is true that he wasn’t helped by the other side either.

Coomarasamy : “Well, I was going to say…I mean that is the point there. Isn’t that? However late this convention took place, it did need somebody else, and they simply went there at that point.”

Mallat: “Absolutely, and it is still not there! There is a big problem of Palestinians not considering Israelis as human beings and vice versa.”

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