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A Frog's-eye view

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Monday, September 09, 2002

I was saddened to see the following report by Douglas Davis in the print edition of Friday’s Jerusalem Pest:

Anti-Israel French envoy sent to Algeria

LONDON – French Ambassador to the United Kingdom Daniel Bernard has been reassigned to Algeria.

Bernard, who achieved notoriety when he described Israel as “that shitty little country” which threatens world peace, was recalled from his position in the UK last month.

Bernard caused a diplomatic scandal when he made his comments at a luncheon he attended at the London home of Lord Black of Crossharvour, chairman of Hillnger Inc. which owns the Jerusalem Post, and his wife, columnist Barbara Amiel. Writing afterwards in her newspaper column, Amiel lamented that anti-Semitism has become respectable at smart London dinner tables, and said that the ambassador of a leading European Union country “politely told a gathering at my home that the current troubles in the world were all because of ‘that shitty little country Israel’”.

Far be it from me to pass judgment upon the relative virtues of different world states, but it could be said that being moved from the position of Ambassador to the Court of St. James to Ambassador to Algeria may be seen by some as demotion.


This story, which appeared in yesterday’s Al-Ayyam, has been picked up in brief by today’s Jerusalem Pest. The Pest reports:

Gisele Halimi, a 75-year-old French lawyer who earned her reputation by defending Algerians fighting French rule, announced on Saturday that she will lead the team defending [Marwan Bargouthi,] the Tanzim leader and founder of the Aksa Martyrs Brigade who was indicted on numerous counts of murder, attempted murder, and leadership of terrorist organizations.

The polished Halimi, who said she met with Barghouti last Friday -- a day after the stormy opening session of the Barghouti trial -- immediately questioned Israel's right to try him.

"Who is Marwan? What has he said? What has he written?" she asked. "We can't talk here of any real proof or facts."

The Pest goes on to cite some rather weak comments by Israeli officials about Bargouthi’s crimes.

However, the Pest did not give us the full picture of Madam Halimi’s support for Bargouthi. According to Al-Ayyam, she declared:

“Marwan Bargouthi is a man of peace, a man of negotiations, an academic with an MA in political science. Our associates in France have come to recognize him as one of the leaders with whom it is possible to make peace”, adding “All of this brought me to decide to help him”.

Moreover, Madam Halimi did not come alone. She came in the company of another French lawyer, whose name appears to be Daniel Voguet. Voguet was even more outspoken in his support for Bargouthi. Al-Ayyam reports:

For his part, Fourier indicated that he had heard from French and Israeli officials that two years ago, Bargouthi was constantly received in Tel-Aviv by different Israeli leaders, and that he had put all efforts and demonstrated courage for the sake of peace and the defense of the Olso agreement, and said “If I were to add to this fact that Bargouthi is a member of parliament and one of the leaders of the Fatah movement, then it is clear that his trial in an Israeli court is in fact a trial of the policies pursued by the leadership of the Palestinian people, and it is clearly a political trial, and that it is not Bargouthi personally that is on trial, but rather the policies pursued by the leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, and for this reason he has the intention of entirely denying the jurisdiction of the Israeli Court just as the Israelis refuse to be tried before a Palestinian court”.

Madam Halimi adds:

As a lawyer interested in fundamental way in human rights, there are two important elements: the first is the premises, i.e. who is Marwan and what was Marwan, and what did he say and what did he write, and what did others say about him; this is not something that we can talk about here. And then there are the accusations made against him by the Israelis, and any self-respecting lawyer and any normal citizen would say that there is no irrefutable evidence for the accusations, and we cannot talk about facts”.

Of great interest is the support for Bargouthi from the French foreign ministry:

She [Halimi] indicated that before her arrival and that of her colleague in Jerusalem they were received by the head of the Foreign Relations office of the French foreign ministry, and the director of the Foreign Ministry for the African and Middle Eastern Department in Paris, saying “They confirmed for us their logistical support and asked us to inform the French authorities about the situation. We also have the support of the head of the Parisian Bar Association [or Law Society in British parlance], who wrote to the French Ambassador in Tel Aviv, as well as to the head of the Israeli Bar Association, and we have been received by the Israeli ambassador in Paris who knows Marwan Bargouthi well from his participation in several meetings in parallel to the Olso talks.”

It seems to me that the learned lawyers appear to be avoiding the point. The issue of jurisdiction is important, but as the state prosecutor has pointed out, Bargouthi is accused of murdering Israeli civilians in Israel; what legal restriction can there be for putting him on trial in Israel? Moreover, the arguments about Bargouthi’s participation in the Olso process are totally irrelevant. Jibril Rajoub has a favourite amongst the Israeli left for many years, but when the Israeli forces invaded his headquarters in Beitunia and found the torture chamber he used against his Palestinian opponents the image of him as a cuddly bear of a man took a serious blow. Bargouthi may have once espoused “moderate” views, but the charges against him speak of his sending out armed men to deliberately target civilians. Hardly the acts of a “man of negotiation” as Madam Halimi puts it.

Incidentally, while searching the web for more information on the charges being pressed against Bargouthi, I came across the web-site www.tanzim.net. While it does indeed contain a lot of information about the activities of the Tanzim over past two years, I suspect from the nature of its content that it is not the official website of Fatah’s military wing. Check it out!

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