UK grants immunity for one IDF general; another stays at home

July 2, 2013
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Times of Israel: IDF chief visits UK for first time in a decade ;
2) Ynet news: IDF chief Gantz to visit London ;
3) PCHR: Suspected War Criminal Lt. General Gantz Offered ‘Special Mission’ Immunity Before Visit to the UK, July 2nd, 2013;
4) Ha’aretz: Fear of arrest still prevents Israeli officials from visiting Britain Almog cancels, May 2013;
5) BBC: Police feared ‘airport stand-off’, a 2008 attempt by Maj-Gen Almog to enter the UK;
6) Ministry of Justice; Universal Jurisdiction, Government briefing on change in law;

Benny Gantz, Chief of the General Staff,  IDF,  is in London this week on the invitation of General Sir David Julian Richards, the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff. Photo by Nir Kafr

IDF chief visits UK for first time in a decade

Benny Gantz arrives in London to meet with UK forces’ commander on security issues and military cooperation

By Stuart Winer and Adiv Sterman, Times of Israel
July 2, 2013

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived in London on Tuesday in the first such official visit in over a decade. Top generals have refrained from visiting the country in recent years due to the threat of arrest on charges of war crimes.

An IDF spokesman told The Times of Israel that Gantz was to be hosted by his UK peer Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Julian Richards and will hold meetings with local security chiefs. Among the topics on the agenda are military cooperation, joint security challenges and the overall situation in the Middle East

Between the years 2009 and 2012 Israeli ministers and high-ranking IDF officers avoided traveling to the UK out of concern that they may be arrested on charges of war crimes that were lodged by pro-Palestinian lobbyists.

Following Israel’s assassination of Palestinian arch-terrorist Salah Shehadeh in 2002, pro-Palestinian groups spurred efforts to have Israeli military and political figures arrested in Britain for alleged war crimes committed abroad, exploiting a loophole in British law enabling universal jurisdiction.

As a result senior Israeli politicians and defense officials avoided official visits to London for several years. Tzipi Livni — foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-9 — was forced to cancel a visit later in 2009 after being warned that she faced arrest over alleged war crimes during the three-week long IDF campaign in the Gaza Strip that aimed to stop rocket fire from the coastal enclave into Israel. In perhaps the most famous incident, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog flew to London in 2005 to raise funds for a charity but, upon arrival, was advised not to disembark from the plane so as not to officially set foot on British soil and face arrest.

In 2011, however, the law was amended so that Britain’s director of Public Prosecutions would be required to give his consent if a group calls for an arrest warrant to be issued on the grounds of universal jurisdiction, effectively closing the loophole. Livni eventually visited Britain in 2011 to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

In December 2012, then home front defense minister Avi Dichter, who was formerly the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, also made an official visit to London.

IDF chief Gantz to visit London

Next week’s trip will be the first by an Israeli army chief since 1998

By Itamar Eichner, Ynet news
June 28, 2013

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz is scheduled to visit Britain next week in what will be the first London trip by an Israeli army chief since 1998, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.

Gantz will be the personal guest of the British Chief of General Staff.

The details of the visit remain confidential in order to avoid provocations by anti-Israel elements.

Recent years have seen a rapprochement between Israel and Britain in relation to the campaign against Iran’s nuclear program. About a year and a half ago, Britain’s Chief of General Staff, Sir Peter Wall, held a secret visit in Israel.

Gantz’s trip was made possible after Britain amended a law which threatened Israeli officials with arrest while visiting London, in late 2011.

A source at the British Foreign Office said that the United Kingdom welcomes Israeli officials and will see to it that all visits are properly secured.

Suspected War Criminal Lt. General Gantz Offered ‘Special Mission’ Immunity Before Visit to the UK

July 02, 2013

Lt. General Benny Gatz, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), is due to visit the United Kingdom this week; it will be the first visit of an IDF Chief of Staff to the United Kingdom since 1998. Lt. General Gantz is suspected of involvement in the commission of war crimes, particularly with respect to his role in the November 2012 attack on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Operation Pillar of Defense.

Prior to his visit, the UK Government awarded Lt. General Gantz’s trip the status of a Special Mission, thereby granting him immunity from the UK’s criminal justice system. It is noted that Mr. Gantz would not ordinarily be entitled to immunity, and that the UK is under a binding legal obligation to search for and prosecute those suspected of committing war crimes, including before their own national courts.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Hickman & Rose Solicitors, who represent the victims of Lt. General Gantz’s actions, condemn the decision to grant immunity to a suspected war criminal. This decision sends the dangerous message that political considerations will be placed ahead of the rule of law.

Credible evidence exists indicating Mr. Gantz’s involvement in the commission of war crimes: these allegations should be investigated and, if appropriate, Mr. Gantz should be prosecuted. He should not be pre-emptively granted immunity by the UK Government, circumventing normal criminal justice procedures.

It is noted that the decision to grant Mr. Gantz Special Mission immunity comes after a similar decision by the UK Government last week with respect to the anticipated visit of Major General Doron Almog (retired). Mr. Almog subsequently cancelled his visit for unknown reasons.

The granting of Special Mission immunity must be subject to public debate and increased legal scrutiny. There exists a clear risk – as demonstrated by the granting of immunity to Mr. Almog and Mr. Gantz – that Special Missions will be used to protect allies of the Government, undermining the basic principle of equal application of the law and the UK’s international legal obligation to seek out and prosecute suspected war criminals.

For further information please contact:

In the Gaza Strip:
* Raji Sourani, Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: 00 (972) 599608811

In the United Kingdom:
* Kate Maynard, Partner, Hickman & Rose Solicitors: 00 (44) 7812974613
* Daniel Machover, Partner, Hickman & Rose Solicitors: 00 (44) 7773341096

Major General Doron Almog

Fear of arrest still prevents Israeli officials from visiting Britain

Despite changes to ‘war crimes’ law in Britain, Maj. Gen. Doron Almog cancels trip on Jerusalem’s advice.

By Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz
May 30, 2012

LONDON – The Israeli government fears senior state officials and military officers are still at risk of being arrested in Britain for alleged war crimes, despite a legal amendment aimed at precluding such arrests. Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog had recently canceled an appearance at a fundraising dinner in London scheduled for next month at the advice of Jerusalem.

Almog, who was GOC Southern Command in 2000-2003, was almost arrested seven years ago at Heathrow Airport, after a local court issued a warrant for his arrest based on claims made by pro-Palestinian activists.

Almog is a patron of Aleh, a charity NGO that supports severely disabled young Israelis. In September 2005, as he was landing in Britain for fundraising purposes, the Israeli ambassador in London informed him about the arrest warrant for alleged war crimes committed under his command in the Gaza Strip. Almog remained on the plane and flew back to Israel.

After this incident, Jerusalem began pressuring London to amend its universal jurisdiction law, which allows private citizens to obtain arrest warrants for war crimes against foreigners visiting Britain.

Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker, are among the senior Israeli officials who have refrained from visiting Britain because of this law.

In September 2011 the law was amended to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions in case a warrant was issued. Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, contacted Almog and Livni personally after the law was amended to tell them they could now visit Britain without risking arrest.

However, some legal experts dispute this assertion and apparently even the British government was not convinced; when Foreign Secretary William Hague invited Livni to London after the law was amended, the visit was still defined as official, in order to guarantee her protection under diplomatic immunity.

Almog is a prominent spokesperson for Aleh: His son Eran, who died in 2007 at the age of 23, was severely autistic. The Aleh Negev rehabilitative village was named after him.

After the law was changed, Almog agreed to be the guest of honor at a fundraising dinner for the organization in London on June 28, but eventually decided to cancel his participation on the advice of the Israeli government; as a result, the event had been postponed.

“It was Doron’s decision to cancel,” said a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity, “but we told him we couldn’t fully guarantee an arrest warrant would not be issued again. It’s true that the new British law is better than the original one, which allowed any judge to issue a warrant, but the government promised it would be changed so that only the Attorney General, who is a political figure we can trust, would authorize universal jurisdiction arrests.

“Instead they decided that the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is a civil servant, may decide that he is going to authorize arrest warrants. We are still waiting for assurances on this from the British government.”

Since the law was changed, some Israel Defense Forces officers have visited Britain for work purposes, but no public visits or lectures have taken place.

Doron Almog confirmed the cancellation, saying, “The change to the law is cosmetic; were I to arrive tomorrow in London, the arrest warrant could still be used against me. I don’t know what the British prosecutor is going to decide,” he said.

Gail Seal, the president of Friends of Aleh in the U.K., said: “We are very disappointed for Aleh, that Doron Almog, who has done so much for these children, cannot come to the U.K.. We hope that it will be possible to hold the event in November.”

The Israeli embassy in London said: “In cases such as these, an inter-ministerial committee advises former senior officials regarding the legal possibilities. Almog consulted the committee and we support his decision.”

Police feared ‘airport stand-off’

By Dominic Casciani, BBC News
February 19, 2008

An Israeli general wanted for alleged war crimes escaped arrest in the UK because British police feared an armed confrontation at Heathrow airport.

Documents seen by BBC News reveal how Major General Doron Almog managed to fly back to Israel when police failed to board his plane in September 2005.

He stayed on board for two hours after a tip-off that he was facing detention.

Police were concerned about a potential clash with Israeli air marshals or armed personal security on the plane.

Maj Gen Almog had flown to the UK for social and charitable visits to Jewish communities in Solihull, in the West Midlands, and Manchester.

Lawyers acting for Palestinian campaigners lobbied the Metropolitan Police to act over allegations he had ordered the destruction in 2002 of more than 50 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.

Campaigners say the homes were destroyed by the Israeli army as retribution for a Palestinian militant attack, in contravention of the laws of war protecting civilian property. Israel says destruction of Palestinian houses is among the necessary measures it takes to protect its citizens.

The Met initially refused to get involved, citing massive pressures on counter-terrorism teams in the wake of the London bombings.

But the legal representatives successfully applied to a judge for an arrest warrant for a private prosecution.

Decisions log

A decisions log prepared for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has investigated the incident, shows officers decided to detain the general at Heathrow’s immigration control.

They then planned to take him to a police station to consider executing the warrant.

However, news of the warrant leaked to the Israeli Embassy.

Officials tipped off the general and he and his wife refused to leave the El Al flight for the two hours it sat at the London airport’s terminal.

The documents now show Det Supt John MacBrayne, a senior counter-terrorism officer who was responsible for the operation, could not get confirmation that his team had the right to board the plane.

El Al, Israel’s national airline, had refused permission.

In his log, he wrote: “Another consideration [was] that El Al flights carried armed air marshals, which raised issues around public safety.

“There was also no intelligence as to whether Mr Almog would have been travelling with personal security as befitted his status, armed or otherwise.”

The officer concluded there were real risks to the police and public and also had concerns about the “international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport”.

Apology to Israel

When Maj Gen Almog arrived back in Israel, the planned arrest caused a minor diplomatic storm, with Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom describing the incident as an “outrage”.

In turn, the then UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw apologised to his counterpart for any embarrassment caused.

Hickman and Rose, lawyers for the Palestinians, demanded an inquiry.

A spokesman for the Independent Police Complaints Commission said its review had not identified the source who leaked details of the planned arrest.

It also concluded police had not broken rules by failing to board the aircraft to execute the warrant.

John O’ Connor, a former head of Scotland Yard’s flying squad, told BBC One’s Breakfast programme: “All they needed to do was to stop the plane from taking off and negotiate through the Foreign Office.”

He said he felt the arrest had been “written off”, putting “British justice is in the dock.”

Universal Jurisdiction

Briefing from Ministry of Justice
September 15, 2011

A new law which will help courts in England and Wales deal with people accused of serious human rights violations has received Royal Assent.

The United Kingdom has ‘universal jurisdiction’ over a small number of serious offences, which means a person accused of committing these crimes in another country can be brought to justice in our courts.

Offences covered by universal jurisdiction include certain war crimes, torture and hostage-taking and, under UK law, anyone can apply to the courts for an arrest warrant to ensure those guilty of these crimes abroad face justice here.

New changes to the law in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act will not affect this right and those accused of these grave crimes will still be brought to justice if there is sufficient evidence against them. However, as of today, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions will now be required before an arrest warrant is issued in universal jurisdiction cases brought by individuals.

This change to the law will ensure that the system is no longer open to abuse by people seeking warrants for grave crimes on the basis of scant evidence to make a political statement or to cause embarrassment.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

We are clear about our international obligations and these new changes to existing law will ensure the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution.

These changes are essential to ensure we do not risk damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.’

In the past, attempts have been made to obtain warrants to arrest visiting foreign dignitaries such as Henry Kissinger, Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai and Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister and now leader of the Opposition in Israel.

Notes to Editors
War crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, and a small number of other grave offences, are subject to universal jurisdiction. This enables prosecution to take place here even though the offence was committed outside the United Kingdom, and irrespective of nationality.

A private prosecution can be brought in universal jurisdiction cases. It is open to any individual to initiate criminal proceedings by applying to Westminster Magistrates Court for a summons or an arrest warrant.

The evidence required for the issue of a summons or warrant is far less onerous than that required by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in determining whether a prosecution should go ahead. The court must simply be shown some information that an offence has been committed by the accused, and it does not need to decide that there is a realistic prospect of conviction.


© Copyright JFJFP 2017