British lawyers looking for ways to hold Israel accountable for its deadly advance into Gaza last year have expanded their legal campaign by seeking the arrest of Israeli military officers entering Britain.
The attorneys plan to go to British courts to obtain arrest
warrants against individuals linked to suspected war crimes so they
would be taken into custody if they entered Britain, Daniel
Machover, a lawyer coordinating the legal team, said Tuesday.
"We've been collecting evidence for some time," said Machover
of the Hickman & Rose firm. "If one of the suspects is coming to
the country, we are ready to go to the police and the courts with
There was no immediate response to the plan from Britain's
Ministry of Justice. Israel brushed off the move as part of a
harassment campaign by anti-Israeli groups.
"Not one of these suits have ever materialized into a trial,
due to an obvious lack of evidence and proof, and this will
probably be how this one will end up as well," said Israeli
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Machover said the effort started before the Gaza offensive began
in late December and also involves lawyers in other countries who
are working to bring cases based on the concept of universal
jurisdiction, which allows countries to arrest and try people for
crimes unrelated to their own territory or nationals.
That means that a suspected war criminal thought to have
committed serious crimes in another country could be put on trial
in Britain even though the crime was not committed in Britain and
didn't involve British nationals.
Universal jurisdiction is accepted by some European countries,
including Britain, but rejected by others. Its use has posed a
problem for Israeli leaders, especially since a recent U.N. inquiry
known as the Goldstone report accused Israel of using excessive
force and endangering civilians in Gaza.
That has galvanized pro-Palestinian groups angry over Israel's
actions in Gaza, where almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis
were killed during the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict.
Pro-Palestinian lawyers tried to use universal jurisdiction
doctrine to force the arrest of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
on war crimes charges during a visit to Britain last month, but his
status as a Cabinet minister gave him diplomatic immunity.
It is not yet clear how British courts would view requests for
the arrests of serving Israeli military officers.
Machover would not specify which individuals he and other
lawyers were pursuing in the courts but said he is working with the
Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza.
"You wouldn't know about it until the person was arrested
because we don't want the person to flee," he said.
Machover said lawyers are also pursuing universal jurisdiction
arrest warrants against suspected war criminals from other
countries not connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He
refused to say which countries were being targeted, again saying he
did not want to tip off potential suspects.
Chris Doyle, director of The Council for Arab-British
Understanding, said he welcomed the effort to prosecute Israeli
He said the Goldstone report documented a number of cases in
which Israel failed to comply with international law, justifying
the use of universal jurisdiction to bring wrongdoers to justice.
"These sorts of legal activities come about because of the
failure of many Western governments to hold Israel to account for
what it does," he said.