PCHR slams immunity for Israel army chief on UK visit
Aftermath of an Israeli air strike on the building of Hamas’ Ministry of Interior in Gaza City Nov. 16, 2012
BETHLEHEM – The Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Tuesday condemned a decision by the United Kingdom to grant immunity to Israel’s army chief while visiting the country.
Lt. General Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, arrived in the UK on Tuesday, in the first visit of an Israeli army chief since 1998.
The UK government granted Gantz’s trip the status of Special Mission, thus granting him immunity from the UK’s criminal justice system, PCHR said.
Hickman & Rose Solicitors, who represent the victims of General Gantz’s actions together with PCHR, said the 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,” PCHR said.
“He should not be pre-emptively granted immunity by the UK Government, circumventing normal criminal justice procedures.”
Lt. General Gantz is suspected of involvement in the commission of war crimes, particularly with respect to his role in the November 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Operation Pillar of Defense, PCHR says.
A week earlier, the UK government also applied Special Mission status to the visit of Major General Doron Almog, a retired army official suspected of war crimes, granting him immunity from Britain’s criminal justice system.
Mr. Almog canceled his scheduled UK visit at the last minute for unknown reasons.
In 2005, a British court issued an arrest warrant for Major General Doron Almog in relation to the destruction of 59 Palestinian homes in Rafah refugee camp in 2002 as part of a sustained policy of house demolitions in Gaza, PCHR said.
British police were preparing to arrest Almog on suspicion of war crimes after he and his wife flew to the United Kingdom in 2005, but he refused to leave his plane at Heathrow airport following a tip-off about the arrest warrant and was allowed to return to Israel.
The decision to grant immunity to both Israeli officials “sends the clear message that Israel can commit war crimes in the Gaza Strip with impunity,” PCHR said.
There is a risk, the group said, that Special Missions will be used to protect allies of the government and undermine the “basic principle of equal application of the law and the UK’s international legal obligation to seek out and prosecute suspected war criminals.”