Israel’s Friends at Westminster Legislate to Protect Criminals

Israelis wanted for war crimes can sleep easier thanks to their friends and admirers in the British Establishment.

Yes, our brand-new coalition government intends providing a safe haven for the vilest of criminals.

When Israel’s ex-foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and other architects of the terror campaign against Palestinian civilians, recently cancelled trips to the UK for fear of being arrested under universal jurisdiction laws on charges of war crimes, it sparked a diplomatic row. Britain’s then foreign secretary-in-waiting, William Hague, an avid Friend of Israel since boyhood, said: “We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country. The situation is unsatisfactory [and] indefensible. It is absolutely my intention to act speedily.”

He found it “completely unacceptable” that someone like Livni felt she could not visit the UK. He didn’t explain how welcoming Livni with open arms was possible “without weakening our commitment to hold accountable those guilty of war crimes”.

Gordon Brown, the then prime minister, expressed his regret over the incident, saying that Livni was “most welcome in Britain any time” — even though she was no longer a government minister in Israel.

Under universal jurisdiction all states that are party to the Geneva Conventions are obliged to seek out and either prosecute or extradite those suspected of having committed grave breaches of the Conventions and bring them, regardless of nationality, to court.

“Grave breaches” means willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and other serious violations of the laws of war… the sort of atrocities that have been (and still are) committed wholesale by Israel in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Lo and behold, new Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has announced, just as MPs are about to disappear on their long summer recess, that “it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.”

Alerts have gone out from activist groups. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign urges its members to write to their MPs immediately: “This would seriously hamper the work of human rights lawyers in this country who are attempting to bring these war criminals to justice, and would deny the Palestinians yet another chance at justice.

“Between September and December 2009, lawyers issued arrest warrants against three Israeli ministers who were planning to visit Britain. Two of them — Livni and Moshe Ya’alon — cancelled their visits as a result. The third – Barak – had his status upgraded by the then Labour government, so that he could attend the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

“If the Government’s plans become law, warrants such as these will become much harder to serve.”

Meanwhile, in his report to the UN, Judge Richard Goldstone found masses of evidence of war crimes by Israel in Gaza and has called for individual states in the international community to “start criminal investigations in national courts, using universal jurisdiction, where there is sufficient evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949”.

Hague and Clarke, however, seem determined to make the likes of Livni and Barak and their murderous military henchmen a protected species.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, a supposedly independent figure, is answerable through the Attorney General. The new Attorney General is Dominic Grieve. In 2007 he was in Israel with a Conservative Friends of Israel delegation. He spoke up for the release of captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, but his sense of justice apparently didn’t prompt him to mention the thousands of Palestinian civilians tortured and rotting in Israeli jails.

Grieve’s deputy is Solicitor General Edward Garnier. In February, while still in opposition but warming up for the general election, he and Kenneth Clarke visited Israel as delegates of Conservative Friends of Israel when they could (and should) have gone under a neutral parliamentary flag. They met with deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, and leader of the Opposition, Livni. Ayalon is also on the wanted list but was able to visit London after receiving a letter from the Foreign Ministry promising he would be safe from arrest while in England.

At the height of the Gaza blitz (which killed 1,400 including 350 children, destroyed or damaged 58,000 homes, 280 schools, 1,500 factories, water and sewage installations and 80 percent of agricultural crops), Hague said in Parliament: “The immediate trigger for this crisis… was the barrage of hundreds of rocket attacks against Israel on the expiry of the ceasefire or truce.”

Wrong. A person in his position should know better than mouth off the Israeli propaganda line. The truce with Hamas didn’t just “expire”. It was violated after five months by Israeli forces, killing six Palestinians in air strikes and other attacks, in order to provoke Hamas. Israel had also failed to deliver its side of the ceasefire bargain, which was to lift the blockade.

While the evidence piles up against Livni and others, the Justice Secretary assures us that “our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering”. How can that be if universal jurisdiction cases in future are filtered and processed solely by the Director of Public Prosecutions?

The fear is that the DPP’s wheels turn so slowly that the birds will have flown before arrests can be made, and the change in the law will simply enable the DPP to thwart private efforts to bring to book those criminals the British government regards as friends.

Let’s remember that after the 22-day devastation of Gaza and the mega-deaths and maimings, their friend, Livni, bragged how she would happily do it again.

Hague, after just two months in the top job at the Foreign Office, is already an embarrassment to English people who yearn for moral leadership in foreign affairs. It was Hague who uttered these words in 2008: “The unbroken thread of Conservative Party support for Israel that has run for nearly a century from the Balfour Declaration to the present day will continue. Although it will no doubt often be tested in the years ahead, it will remain constant, unbroken, and undiminished by the passage of time.”

Undiminished by the passage of crime, too.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can be read on the internet by visiting Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on July 24th, 2010 at 10:55am #

    This is a awful lot of hot air about very little! All there is is “it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.” The consent of the DPP is already required in respect of all but the most minor offences, so what does that change? I don’t see how a lower standard could be set for universal jurisdiction prosecutions without violating the due process article of the European Convention of Human Rights.
    Equally, prosecution of government ministers, as distinct from the actual perpetrators, is not easy. You have to be able to prove that the minister actually ordered the commission of the offence. “Dear soldier, I am ordering you to commit an atrocity”! How likely is that?
    Then there’s the problem of sovereign immunity. And why not use the International Criminal Court? And there’s all the “victor’s justice” issues raised, for example, by Milosevic. And so on.
    All this looks like the usual “everyone’s in Israel’s pocket, the Palestinian cause is hopeless” stuff! Mr Littlewood might be better employed cheering the Kosovo judgment, which basically undermines Israel’s position.

  2. Ismail Zayid said on July 24th, 2010 at 5:33pm #

    The role of the leaders of the British establisment, in its current role, in support of Israel and its leaders, is not a new one. Lord Arthur Balfour was instrumental in creating this current crisis and bringing about all the tragic events that befell the Palestinian people and continue to befall them. Providing new legislation to protect Israel’s leaders, from facing the price of the war crimes that they committed and continue to commit, is only a new chapter in this infamous British role.

  3. yoni said on July 30th, 2010 at 7:46pm #

    No, not protecting “criminals”, but protecting the misuse of the law and the notions of human rights by their worst violators against a country that has done more to protect the life of civilians among an enemy that attacked her – than any other country in the history or warfare.
    And let’s say that Israel committed “war crimes” – why should Britain be the persecutor? Maybe Israel should also arrest British politicians when they come to visit Israel, for much much much much much worst war crimes, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries far away from Britain, that never threatened to destroy Britain or attacked her with suicide bombers, 12,000 rockets and culture of death and antisemitism.
    Besides, isn’t it the time that Britain pays for its unbelievable horrible crimes during its existence? I believe that it has done a bit more than the tiny Jewish state that tries to defend its citizens no? Or maybe handling the small country that is doing much better than you helps better to clean the conscious without inflicting much on the self.