x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

EU lawyers join drive to indict Israeli officers

Israeli military officers who took part in Israel's incursion of the Gaza Strip last winter may need to think twice before travelling to Europe.

TEL AVIV // Israeli military officers who took part in Israel's incursion of the Gaza Strip last winter may need to think twice before travelling to Europe. Israeli media reported yesterday that human rights lawyers in the European Union are drawing up lists of names of Israeli military commanders alleged to be linked to war crimes committed in Gaza. The lawyers are hoping that the evidence they are collecting, including testimonies from Palestinians, will prompt countries such as Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway to arrest those Israelis linked to possible war violations who arrive on their soil.

The reports come as Israel is forging a battle against international efforts to bring it before a war crimes tribunal for its actions during the 22-day assault in the Gaza Strip in December and January. Although such a possibility remains far off, it could potentially be spurred by a controversial UN report made public in September that alleged Israeli war crimes during the attacks, which killed almost 1,400 Palestinians.

An effort by the European lawyers would also add pressure on Israel to follow the recommendation of the UN report and launch a credible investigation into alleged war crimes. The report, which also accused the Palestinian Islamic group Hamas of war crimes, suggested that the UN Security Council refer its findings to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct credible investigations within six months.

The document, based on an inquiry headed by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge, is set to be discussed as early as next week at the UN General Assembly. The debate may be prompted by the request of the Arab League's representative in the UN, made this week to the General Assembly president. The representative, Yahya Mahmassani, told news agencies that the Arab League wants the General Assembly to pass a resolution approving the Goldstone report and requesting that the UN Security Council conduct a formal discussion on it.

But some European rights lawyers are not taking any chances that Israel may not end up before a war-crimes tribunal amid the expectation that the US, an Israeli ally, may hamper any UN move to forward the Goldstone report to prosecutors in The Hague. According to Haaretz, a liberal Israeli daily newspaper, the lawyers' lists include army officers holding ranks of battalion commander and higher who participated in the Gaza attacks.

The lists and evidence are being collected by an informal network of European human rights lawyers, who share information with each other to prompt the arrest of officers who reach their respective countries. According to Haaretz, they also track the activities of Jewish and pro-Israeli organisations in Europe that invite Israeli army officers to their events, and in some cases get tips from border police on the arrival of military officials.

Their efforts in Britain are being co-ordinated by Daniel Makover, a London-based lawyer who is filing cases in the names of Gaza civilians interviewed by his assistants in the weeks after the onslaught and who had requested that he represent them, Haaretz said. Such cases would fall under the legal principle of "universal jurisdiction", applicable in countries like Britain, which states that some crimes are so heinous that they could be prosecuted locally even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.

Although Mr Makover refused to disclose details identifying the targeted officers or how many were listed, he told Haaretz that the Goldstone report "strengthened our findings by mentioning the incidents with which we have already been familiar". Mr Makover is no stranger to such actions. In 2005, he asked a British court to issue a warrant against Doron Almog, a retired Israeli general, on suspicion of war crimes he claimed were committed in Gaza under Mr Almog's watch while he served as chief of Israel's southern command. Mr Almog avoided getting arrested by remaining aboard his plane at London's Heathrow airport after getting a tip-off that police were outside to arrest him. The Israeli airline then flew him back to Israel. The warrant was eventually dropped for procedural reasons.

Although the British legal campaign has so far failed to have Israeli officials arrested, it has prompted some current and former members of the country's armed forces to feel its heat. Moshe Yaalon, a cabinet minister and former military chief of staff, cancelled a trip to the United Kingdom this month because of concerns he could face possible charges for his involvement in a 2002 assassination of a Hamas militant leader that killed 14 other people, including nine children.

In September, British lawyers unsuccessfully tried to obtain an international arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, during his visit in the country. Mr Barak, whom Israeli officials said was immune from arrest because he was a top government official, had called the attempt "absurd" and blasted it as giving "a prize to terrorists". foreign.desk@thenational.ae