Open letter to Netanyahu from massacre survivors’ legal team

Above: Local residents are shown looking at bodies in a refugee camp in Beirut in this 1982 file photo. Photo by Ali Jarekji/Reuters.

On 18 June 2001, a case was lodged in Belgium by 23 survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres that charged Ariel Sharon, former Israeli defense minister and Israel’s current prime minister, as well as other Israelis and Lebanese with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the massacres committed between 16-18 September 1982 in two refugee camps in Beirut.

The passage of the trial has been somewhat convoluted until yesterday, when the Belgian Supreme Court decided that Sharon could be prosecuted after he leaves office. A full statement (in French) concerning yesterday’s landmark ruling can be found at: For more information about the case, see

Below is an open letter requesting an apology from Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for comments made yesterday following the ruling which characterised the survivors of the massacre as “terrorists”. The open letter was issued today in Belgium by the three lawyers representing the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.


Brussels, 13 February 2003

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Mr. Netanyahu,

Yesterday you declared that the Belgian Supreme court made “a scandalous decision, which legitimizes terror and harms those who fight it. This turns the tables — when those who fight terror turn into the accused and the terrorists are victorious.”

As counsels of the plaintiffs, 28 Palestinian and Lebanese survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, we cannot accept your language, tone, or characterization of yesterday’s landmark ruling.

Our clients are not “terrorists,” but ordinary people who were raped, tortured, and wounded; who were forced to witness — and relive everyday since — the slaughter of their children, parents, husbands and wives, or who had their close relatives “disappeared.” By calling these victimized survivors “terrorists,” after all that they have endured for over twenty years, you have brought shame upon yourself as Foreign Minister, and upon your country, which, to its great credit, acknowledged the responsibility of Israeli politicians and military in this crime against humanity two decades ago, yet has never gone one additional and crucial step further by legally prosecuting the perpetrators and compensating the victims.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, you should not accuse the Belgian Supreme Court of legitimizing terrorism simply because it accepts the principle that Belgian courts have universal jurisdiction over perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Your country was the very first country in the world to endorse universal jurisdiction for such crimes in its national legislation. Israel arrested war criminals like Eichmann and Demanjuk in other countries, or sought to have suspects extradited.

Israel has failed, however, in respecting and discharging its clear obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, expressly qualified by the United Nations as an act of genocide and perpetrated in territory then under the control of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Your statement gratuitously inflicts additional pain and suffering on our clients. The Middle East has been plagued by violence and revenge for over half a century. Our clients’ legal action constitutes the very first attempt by victims of mass violence in the region to seek redress through non-violent legal action before an independent court, and we expect any decent person in the world to respect this choice.

We are issuing this public request that you apologize for your cruel remarks.


Luc Walleyn
Michael Verhaeghe
Chibli Mallat

Official Israeli government report of Netanyahu’s remarks

FM Netanyahu on Decision of the Supreme Court of Belgium - Feb 12, 2003

Information Department, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem

Jerusalem, 12 February 2003

FM Netanyahu Decision of the Supreme Court of Belgium
(Communicated by the Foreign Minister’s Bureau)

Following today’s (Feb 12) ruling of the Supreme Court of Belgium, Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he has decided to recall the Ambassador of Israel in Brussels, Mr. Yehudi Kenar, to Israel for consultations. In addition, Foreign Minister Netanyahu will summon the Ambassador of Belgium to the Foreign Ministry for urgent discussions tomorrow (Feb 13).

Mr. Netanyahu stated that the decision of the Belgian Court is scandalous, and that it legitimates terror and harms those who fight terrorism. “It is all topsy-turvy - those that fight terrorism have become the accused and the terrorists have become victors.”

The Foreign Minister added that Belgium is not only hurting Israel but the entire free world, and that Israel will have a very stern response.

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