Rami Khouri
The Daily Star (Opinion)
November 6, 2010 - 12:00am

We can learn much from the Israeli government’s decision this week to suspend a special strategic dialog with the United Kingdom because of concerns that Israeli officials could be arrested and indicted with crimes against humanity in the UK, according to a British law that provides for “universal jurisdiction” in such cases, i.e., a suspect of any country can be charged, detained and tried in a British court even if the alleged crimes occurred in a third country and did not include British citizens among the victims. Israel’s Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni recently cancelled a trip to London as did Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor this week, because he was advised that he risked being arrested.

Palestinians in the UK in recent years have filed charges against Israeli officials and British courts have issued arrest warrants for some Israeli officials, though none have actually been taken into custody. The important dimension of this is the concern among many Israelis – justified, in my view – that Israel is being subjected to a “de-legitimization” campaign. This is exactly what is happening, and it scares Israelis more than anything else in the world.

The one most-coveted thing that Israel lacks in the eyes of its Palestinian foes and other Arab and international critics is legitimacy and acceptance. It’s one thing if Yemen, Algeria or Somalia do not recognize Israel, but it is another and much more significant thing entirely if the UK government – the historical midwife of Zionism and the Israeli state – issues arrest warrants charging Israeli officials with crimes against humanity. Exactly 93 years ago this week the British government issued the Balfour Declaration that pledged support for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people.” Now, London joins others in the world who seek to hold accountable to the international rule of law those Israeli leaders at the helm of that “Jewish national home” that is the sovereign state of Israel – sovereign, but still largely unaccepted in its present configuration.

Israel is not particularly worried about its military security, given its known conventional and nuclear capabilities. It has been in a constant state of war with its neighbors for the past 62 years because it has never been fully and formally acknowledged as legitimate by its Arab neighbors. Israel is strong militarily, politically, economically, culturally, and technologically – but it remains vulnerable and uneasy because it is not accepted in the Middle East as a normal, legitimate country. This is primarily because it has refused to come to terms with the national and territorial rights of the Palestinian people whom it largely dispossessed, ethnically cleansed, displaced and exiled in the process of creating the Jewish-majority state of Israel.

All the Arab states have formally offered to coexist in peace with Israel on the basis of the 2002 Arab peace plan which Israel has steadfastly ignored, so this is not about destroying Israel, as Zionist zealots and other howlers claim. The de-legitimization campaign aims to point out that Israeli official actions are often criminal in nature when Israel uses massive and disproportionate force, siege tactics, collective punishment, mass incarceration, torture, assassination, colonization, land theft and other such illegal and criminal behavior in its routine dealings with Palestinians and other Arabs.

The reason Israel reacted so vehemently and almost irrationally last year to the Goldstone Commission report on both Israel’s and Hamas’ conduct of the 2008-09 Gaza war was because this represented a frightening new form of formally sanctioned global criticism of Israel’s excessive use of violence, and, more importantly, sought international follow-up to hold Israel and Hamas accountable for their behavior. It’s one thing if Yemen, Algeria or Somalia accuse Israel of war crimes, but it is another thing altogether when the organs of the UN do this through a commission headed by one of the world’s most respected jurists. Israel has predicated its entire foreign policy since its inception on being able to use any force it deems necessary to protect and assert itself. The criticisms it is receiving, and legal moves such as the Goldstone Commission or the British indictments, are much more frightening to Israel than any missiles it might face from its surroundings, because they chip away at the one indispensable element that Israel has always relied on for its security, wellbeing and Zionist self-assertion: impunity in military actions across the entire Middle East, its colonization of Arab lands, and its structural dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

This is Israel’s Achilles Heel, which is why this movement to challenge Israeli impunity is so significant, and will continue to grow until it achieves a political resolution that is fair to both Palestinians and Israelis, who can enjoy equal rights in a configuration of mutually satisfying statehood, and affirms rather than tramples on the dictates of the global rule of law.

Israel is right to be worried, because its criminal behavior is finally being subjected to formal global scrutiny.


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