US professor under police protection after accusing Sharon of war crimes

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The Independent US

A Princeton University professor has been placed under police protection after saying that the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was indictable for war crimes.

Richard Falk took part in the BBC programme Panorama, which caused a storm in Israel last week for publicly accusing Mr Sharon of playing a leading role in the 1982 slaughter of 800 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Chatila camps in Lebanon.

Since the broadcast, Professor Falk, who is Jewish, has received threatening telephone calls including a specific physical threat to him and his wife, he said.

In the programme, which was re-broadcast on BBC World television this weekend, he asserted that Mr Sharon could be charged under international law. "There is absolutely no question in my mind that he is indictable for the knowledge he had or should have had," he said.

The prominent professor of international law was invited to appear on the programme, called "The Accused", as a former member of an international commission that looked into the massacre of the Palestinian refugees after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. An Israeli commission of enquiry at the time found Mr Sharon, who was Defence Minister and in charge of overseeing all of the invasion, indirectly responsible for the killings.

The massacre was not carried out by Israeli soldiers but by Lebanese Christian militia fighters allied with Israel.

As Professor Falk said on the programme: "Sharon's specific command responsibility arises from the fact that he was minister of defence in touch with the field commanders, that he actually was present there in Beirut, that he met with the Phalange leadership, and it was he that gave the directions and orders that resulted in the Phalange entering the camps in September."

Princeton Police confirmed that the professor had contacted them since the broadcast asking for help.

"This has been rather unpleasant, as you can imagine," he told the Independent on Sunday. "My participation in the programme was rather restrained and I am surprised that it should have provoked such a reaction". He said it had been especially distressing for his wife. "She is nervous every time the phone rings now."

Investigators would not speculate as to the origin of the calls, but Professor Falk suggested they had come from "disturbed individuals" rather than militant groups, such as the Jewish Defence League. The JDL has been investigated by FBI in past terrorist attacks, including the unsolved murder in 1985 of Alex Odeh, an Arab-American activist. "My impression [of extremist Jewish groups] is that if they are serious about trying to assassinate or injure somebody then they don't do these kind of harassing defamatory type preparations. They just do it."

But he does not regret appearing: "I would diminish my sense of self-respect if I didn't participate in a reasonable programme of the sort the BBC put together because I was scared of the consequences."

The broadcast caused a furore in Israel, despite the broadcasting authority's decision not show it. The issue became still more sensitive when 28 survivors of the Sabra and Chatila camps launched legal proceedings against Mr Sharon in a Belgian court on Monday.

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