Israel’s Friends at Westminster

By Stuart Littlewood – London

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.”

Undimished by the passage of crime, too.

– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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