IDF chief may also face legal proceedings in Britain

Chief of Staff Dan Halutz surely can’t be planning a trip to London in the near future. And if his itinerary includes such a journey any time soon, perhaps he should drop the idea or think of an alternative destination. Halutz – like Major General (res.) Doron Almog, who refrained two days ago from disembarking from an El Al plane in London and was forced to return to Israel, and like former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon – is facing in Britain a complaint pertaining to his involvement in approving the targeted killing of Salah Shehadeh in July 2002. A one-ton bomb was dropped on a residential neighborhood in the Gaza Strip in that operation, killing 14 innocent Palestinians, most of them children. As is the case with Almog, if Halutz or Ya’alon decide to travel to London, courts there are likely to issue an arrest warrant against them. But, unlike Almog’s predicament, the initiative to open a criminal investigation against Halutz and Ya’alon does not come only from Palestinian organizations, but also from the Israeli Yesh Gvul movement. Members of Yesh Gvul were in contact recently with solicitor Daniel Machover of the London-based law firm Hickman and Rose. They asked that the organization’s name be added to the complaint filed against Halutz and Ya’alon by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. The Israeli group also passed on „incriminating” material it had amassed on incidents in the Gaza Strip that were allegedly Almog’s responsibility. According to Yesh Gvul sources, the legal proceedings against Halutz in Britain should not come as a surprise to the chief of staff. Already two years ago, when Yesh Gvul petitioned the High Court of Justice with a demand that it order the military advocate general to open a criminal investigation against Halutz, the organization warned that if the Israeli legal establishment failed to take on the matter, the option to approach legal authorities abroad always remained open. „The High Court of Justice is the law-enforcement train’s last station before it leaves the borders of the country,” attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard wrote in their petition. Israelis are, indeed, exempt from being brought up on charges before the International Criminal Court in The Hague because Israel has not ratified the Rome Treaty that established the court. But countries such as Belgium, Spain, Germany and Britain have passed legislation giving their courts universal judicial authority with regard to crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide. Under these laws, a country has the power to bring charges relating to such crimes against a foreign subject if the legal system in the subject’s country of origin is unable or unwilling to handle such complaints. And this is exactly what has happened in Israel, Yesh Gvul says. The movement’s petition for an investigation against Halutz was filed two years ago, but the High Court held its first session on the matter just last week. „We have lost our faith in the Supreme Court, and in its ability to deliberate matters related to the IDF’s activities as an occupying power,” Yesh Gvul spokesman Yishai Menuhin said. „We are approaching instances abroad only after we have tried everything possible in Israel. We did not demand that Halutz be indicted, but only that an investigation be opened, to ascertain the degree of his responsibility.” According to attorney Irit Kahan, former director of the international department at the State Prosecutor’s Office: „Israeli officers who travel to one of the countries that have passed a law giving them universal judicial powers most certainly face the risk of an investigation and being put on trial. „What needs to be done is that the government must iron out the matter with the authorities in Britain, because under current circumstances, there is the danger that things could even come to the severing of diplomatic ties. The government there, like in all democratic countries, does not have the authority to tell the courts how to act, but it can pass legislation that would prevent such use of the universal power.” BPI-info