Israeli ex-military chief cancels trip to UK over threat of war crimes arrest
'Targeted' actions in Gaza may attract charges
Present chief of staff told not to visit London

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Friday September 16, 2005

The Guardian

A former Israeli military chief, Moshe Yaalon, has cancelled a trip to London for fear of arrest on war crimes charges relating to attacks on Palestinian civilians and property.


The Israeli authorities have also warned the present chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, to avoid travel to the UK after a warrant was issued in London against a third officer, retired major general Doron Almog, for alleged crimes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli diplomats helped Mr Almog to evade arrest when he flew into Heathrow on Sunday by warning him not to leave the plane.


The warrant has infuriated the Israeli government. The foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, described it as "scandalous" and planned to press the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, for a change in the law that makes such arrests possible. Aides of Ariel Sharon said he was considering raising the issue at a meeting with Tony Blair at the UN in New York yesterday.

Mr Yaalon, who retired as a major general in June, called off his visit to a fundraising event for an Israeli soldiers' welfare association this weekend after officials received information that warrants were being sought against him and Gen Halutz by lawyers in London acting for Palestinian clients.

But both men are vulnerable over the army's policy of mass house demolitions in the Gaza Strip, which critics say are illegal under international law, and "targeted killings" supposedly aimed at Palestinian fighters but which have resulted in the death of large numbers of civilians.

Mr Yaalon and Gen Halutz, who previously led the air force, were both involved in the decision in 2002 to drop a one-tonne bomb on a Gaza City residential neighbourhood in order to kill the Hamas military chief, Salah Shehadeh. The bomb killed 14 civilians, most of them children.

The warrant against Mr Almog, who was the army commander in Gaza until 2003, accused him of war crimes for the demolition of 59 houses in the Rafah refugee camp.

The army says the destruction of houses in Gaza, which left about 20,000 homeless, was to combat weapons smuggling and prevent attacks by armed Palestinians. But human rights groups have accused it of punitive demolitions and the illegal clearing of areas to push Palestinians away from Jewish settlements.

Bow Street magistrates refused to order Mr Almog's arrest over several killings in the Gaza Strip for lack of evidence but granted the warrant on the house demolitions. A tape recording appears to capture the former general ordering the destruction of the homes. The Israeli-British lawyer who sought the arrest warrant, Daniel Machover, said he pursued the case in London because Israel's high court has ruled that the Geneva conventions do not apply in the occupied territories and that the demolitions are legal under regulations inherited from British rule.

"It's not possible for victims of punitive house demolitions to get a remedy in Israel. They've attempted to do that many many times. The only cases we have taken on are for clients who have sought and failed to get a remedy in the Israeli courts," said Mr Machover.

Some Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem say they plan to seek redress through the British courts against city officials and politicians who ordered the demolition of homes, allegedly as part of a policy of discrimination against non-Jews.

Mr Machover has urged Scotland Yard to launch a criminal investigation of Israeli embassy officials who helped Mr Almog avoid arrest. Brigadier General Zvi Gendelman, a defence attache, boarded an El Al plane at Heathrow and told Mr Almog not to leave. Mr Machover wants the Foreign Office to act against the Israeli diplomats responsible for perverting the course of justice and an inquiry into why police failed to board the plane. He said he hopes fear of arrest abroad will make Israeli soldiers consider the legality of their actions.

The Israeli high court yesterday ordered the government to reroute a section of the West Bank barrier because of its impact on several Palestinian villages. But the court upheld the government's right to build the barrier in the occupied territories.

FAQ: Why would soldiers face prosecution?

Which law is being cited?

Retired Major General Doron Almog and other Israeli officers face arrest under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 that permits the prosecution in Britain of alleged war criminals whatever their nationality and even if their actions were committed abroad.

What is Almog accused of?

Lawyers in London obtained an arrest warrant against him for allegedly breaching an article of the fourth Geneva Convention that makes a crime of "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly". As commander of the army in Gaza for three years after the intifada started in 2000 he is accused of giving orders for the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes.

What about the army chief of staff and his predecessor?

Human rights groups say Moshe Yaalon and Dan Halutz (left) face arrest on similar grounds or for breaching other articles of the conventions over the killing of civilians, including setting policies which permitted soldiers to shoot Palestinians as young as 12.,,1571545,00.html