Israeli delegation cancels UK trip over threat of arrest for war crimes
An Israeli military delegation decided against its planned trip to Britain on Tuesday after their hosts could not guarantee that they would not be arrested on war crimes charges, according to a published report.
“The Israelis called off their trip because their British army hosts could not guarantee they would not be arrested, the Israeli officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter,” the Associated Press reported. “Neither the Israeli military nor the British government would comment.”
The delegation is the latest in a series of Israeli officials who called off plans to visit the U.K. due to the threat of arrest under the doctrine of “universal jurisdiction.”
Universal jurisdiction is a legal theory formed after World War II and practiced by many nations as a way of denying safe haven to war criminals.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni was the focus of an arrest warrant issued in London in mid-December after Palestinian complainants brought a universal jurisdiction case against her over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
“Israelis brand the tactic ‘lawfare,’ which they denounce as warfare through distortion of laws and conventions,” the AP added. “It has crimped the travel plans of many officials and put Israel on the defensive in international bodies.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in October that Israel would not allow its citizens to be tried for alleged war crimes over the Gaza war. The hawkish premier was speaking days before the UN Security Council was to raise a war crimes report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the 22-day war at the turn of the year.
“We refuse to see a situation in which Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni are called to trial,” read a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “We will not agree to have IDF soldiers and commanders, who defended their country and its citizens so bravely and ethically from a nefarious enemy, called war criminals. We reject this absurdity.”
The statement continued: “We will not agree to a situation where IDF commanders and soldiers are branded war criminals after they defended the citizens of Israel with bravery and honor from a cruel enemy.”
British officials at the time called the Livni arrest warrant an “embarrassment.”
A representative with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign told Al Jazeera that the situation was not an “embarrassment” for the U.K., adding that the British foreign office should not try to influence the court.
Pro-Palestine activists in Sept. 2008 failed in an effort to have Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak arrested. He was granted diplomatic immunity.
During Israel’s military campaign in Gaza at the turn of 2009, over 1,400 Palestinians died by violence. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.
The UN report, released by an independent international fact-finding mission headed by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone last month, accused Israel and Palestinian armed groups of committing war crimes. UN chief Ban Ki-moon supports a Palestinian proposal to reopen debate in the Human Rights Council on the report