Linda S. Heard
Gulf News (Opinion)
October 6, 2009 - 12:00am

Once again Palestinians have attempted to procure justice via recognised international channels to no avail. The United Nations Human Rights Council shelved the Goldstone report that compiled evidence that war crimes may have been committed by Israel in Gaza. This means that Israel has once again escaped referral to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The volte-face was the result of pressure from the White House which discounted the report as flawed and one-sided.

To add insult to injury, almost simultaneously, Britain rendered the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak immune from prosecution when he visited London last week with his wife.

Last Saturday, British lawyers acting on behalf of 16 Palestinians, petitioned the City of Westminster Magistrates Court to have Barak arrested for war crimes in connection with ‘Operation Cast Lead’, citing the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, giving universal jurisdiction to English and Welsh courts.

The judge in question accepted the petition’s basic legal premise, but contacted the Foreign Office to ascertain the government’s stance. Within hours, what was meant to be a private visit suddenly morphed into an official one so that Israel’s Defence Minister could be protected under cover of diplomatic immunity in the same way that his predecessor Shaul Mofaz was shielded from justice when he spent time in Britain during 2004.

Shamefully, those aren’t the only occasions when Britain saw fit to circumvent the law to ensure continued good relations with Israel and its big brother — the United States. Israeli officials planning visits to the UK are regularly tipped off, concerning threats of prosecution.

For instance, in 2007, the then head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Avi Dichter, was warned to cancel a trip to London else risk arrest for his part in the attempted assassination of Hamas leaders that resulted in the death of 13 Palestinian civilians.

Earlier, in September 2005, Major General Doron Almog was tipped off not to disembark from an El Al airplane that had landed at Heathrow so that he could avoid being arrested for contravening international laws of war.


Officers from the Metropolitan Police, armed with an arrest warrant, were refused entry, but instead of using force — as they were entitled to do — they stood down, fearing an armed confrontation with General Almog’s security detail. However, a former head of Scotland Yard’s flying squad, John O’Connor, later commented that “all they needed to do was to stop the plane from taking off and negotiate through the Foreign Office”.

Needless to say, the British authorities wouldn’t have been quite as coy as they had indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadžic? who had landed at Heathrow and they certainly didn’t hesitate in detaining the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on a Spanish provisional warrant for the murder of Spanish citizens. And whereas Spanish prosecutors were determined to pursue Pinochet, this year, following a flurry of diplomatic activity between Israel and Spain, a Spanish court ruled that Spain lacked the necessary jurisdiction to prosecute Avi Dichter.

Britain may be reluctant to detain alleged Israeli war criminals but, conversely, it is only too eager to hand over its own citizens to other countries for white collar offences. In 2006, three British bankers were extradited to the US charged with seven counts of wire fraud while a British hacker suffering from Asperger’s syndrome is about to be served on an American platter for hacking into Nasa computers in search of UFOs.

The British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, could block his extradition but says “his crimes are far from trivial”. It seems to be incredible that a man who did no real harm to anyone can be sent away for trial in a foreign land, yet alleged war criminals are embraced by his own. Moreover, the extradition process between the UK and the US is lopsided. America will not hand over its nationals to British courts and has even refused to provide documents requested by British judges.

As if that wasn’t enough to make any fair minded individual want to pull his hair out at the roots, while the US President Barack Obama calls for a nuclear-free world and accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, he has blessed Israel’s policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’.

In other words, Israel will not come under pressure to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, disclose its nuclear capabilities or declare its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the US and its allies, currently sabre-rattling against Tehran for insisting upon its right to enrich uranium, will continue pretending that Israel is nuke-free.

The unpalatable truth is this: Israel is not bound by the international laws and conventions that are applicable to just about every other country on earth. It can assassinate, imprison, or bomb just about anyone without fear of retribution. It can develop nuclear weapons to its heart’s content. It can scoff at UN resolutions and its officials can swan around the world without fear of prosecution, thanks to governments which collude with their own.

Those who criticise this sorry state of affairs are labelled anti-Semite or terrorist supporter. When, oh when, will good people everywhere remove their rose-coloured spectacles long enough to penetrate the carefully orchestrated propaganda and call foul?


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017