Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague received Tzipi Livni in his office at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office this week. The former Israeli Foreign Minister was welcomed warmly even though she is now simply the leader of the opposition in Israel. It was a black day in the history of British justice and a huge insult to the memory of the 1,400 Palestinian victims of Israel’s brutal military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip in 2008/9; more than a third of those killed were children and women; many were incinerated by white phosphorous bombs – which are prohibited internationally – dropped by Israeli soldiers; all were killed while Hague’s guest, Tzipi Livni, was Foreign Minister and a key member of Israel’s “war cabinet”.
The UN’s Goldstone Report claimed that Livni shares responsibility for war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in Gaza; her hands have the blood of innocents on them. By giving her the red carpet treatment, the British government was basically giving official endorsement to those crimes and providing legal cover for the criminals.
Britain’s legal system has long been a source of pride for the country, its people and its democracy because of the independence of the judiciary from the executive. The present government, however, which is completely biased in favour of Israel and its crimes, bent to pressure from the Israelis and amended the law, removing legal power from judges and rendering the justice system both selective and politicised. This is a moral crime of the highest order.
In the past, before the recent amendments, any person had the right to apply to a magistrate of judge for an arrest warrant for any person accused of war crimes. It was left up to the magistrate to determine the strength of the case against the accused. Now, following its complete acquiescence to Israeli wishes, the law has been changed; such an application for an arrest warrant has to be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions in consultation with the Attorney General. The latter is a political appointee so not only is the new system likely to be much slower than before, it is also going to be subject to political considerations.
In the first case of its kind under the new procedure, the British judicial system failed the victims of Israeli aggression when the DPP rejected a legal application submitted by human rights lawyers for the arrest of Livni. The application was rejected because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, anticipating that the evidence against Livni is strong, granted her “special mission” status, giving her diplomatic immunity from criminal prosecution (even though she is neither a diplomat nor serving member of a government). The DPP, therefore, did not reject the evidence against Livni; it had no choice because of the FCO’s decision.
This move by the FCO also means that Israeli generals from among the war criminals will be able to enter Britain and remain without being pursued legally because of the selective application of the universal jurisdiction law. It is clear that if you are from a country allied to Britain you will be free to come to the UK regardless of the accusations and evidence against you. If you are from, for example, Gaddafi’s Libya or Ahmedinejad’s Iran, then you could be expected to face arrest immediately your aircraft touches down at Heathrow.
The universal jurisdiction law was adopted by European democracies to punish Nazi war criminals for perpetrating the crimes of the Holocaust so that they would not find a safe haven anywhere in the world. When this law became applicable to the victims of the Holocaust and their descendents because of the crimes they committed against Palestinian civilians, the British government amended it to protect them. It’s shameful.
Britain, home to the “mother of democracy” and the “independent judiciary”, bowed to pressure and stained the reputation of both in order to please the Israelis and their war criminal leaders. Was this because the Israelis’ victims are Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians? The British government bent the knee before the Israelis despite having a historic responsibility for the Palestinians’ Nakba (Catastrophe), the loss of their rights and their ethnic cleansing from their country.
It was a British Home Secretary who ordered the detention of Shaikh Raed Salah on the pretext that his presence was “not conducive to the public good” in Britain. He is a peaceful man who has never killed as much as a chicken in his life. Just weeks later, another British minister opens his doors widely to Tzipi Livni whose government sent tanks, helicopter gunships and missiles to bomb innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip without any mercy or compassion, destroying their homes above the heads of their children.
The presence of Livni on British soil was a disgrace; for all its claims about democracy, justice and human rights, which it used to justify the invasion of Iraq and military intervention in Libya, the British government should hang its collective head in shame. Those lofty ideals have been confirmed as a sham, devoid of any substance.
Nevertheless, we are not surprised that Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to amend the law of universal jurisdiction to please his friends in Tel Aviv. Nor are we surprised that Foreign Secretary William Hague was the one who received and welcomed Livni, both revelling in what they regard as a great victory. Cameron is an ex-chair of the Conservatives Friends of Israel; Hague joined that group when he was just fourteen years old.
Given Britain’s obligations to uphold international laws and conventions, it was not unreasonable to expect the British government to close its doors on all Israeli officials and not just the suspected war criminals, because of their violations of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention with their illegal settlement construction, seizure of Palestinian land and refusal to respond positively to official entreaties in this regard. The Israelis must have some sort of hold over British officials, although we can’t think what that might be, which makes them bow to Tel Aviv pleading for forgiveness and mercy. What other explanation can there be for the inability of the political and legal systems to be able to detain and put war criminals on trial, even when the evidence against them is so strong?
It is regrettable that the same British government which proposed a resolution in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against the Syrian regime for killing its people chose to exonerate itself from its obligations to pursue war criminals, and exonerate the Israelis from any legal accountability for their crimes. Future British claims about justice and human rights will be meaningless, and we can dismiss the lectures about support for the Arab Spring. The British are now bereft of credibility because they do the exact opposite of what they preach. Indeed, the British government indulges in lies and deception of the worst kind.
It is hard to believe that the British played a leading role in drafting such laws and imposing them on humanity. The Arab world is moving fast towards democracy, human rights, social justice and the rule of law; Britain, meanwhile, is heading in the opposite direction, which is regrettable by any standard. The United Kingdom will be the biggest loser from its support for oppression, murder and violations of international law.
Palestinian blood clearly has no value as far as the Conservative-led coalition is concerned, as long as it is the Israelis who are spilling it. They appear to be above all laws and conventions and they are allowed to commit whatever war crimes they wish, for the Israelis are assured of two things: the American veto that protects them in the UN; and Britain’s enduring loyalty. In the face of such double standards and hypocrisy, we possess little other than the ability to keep writing and speaking about the injustices committed by these supposed champions of democracy, justice and human rights. We will continue to sound the alarm for all who wish to hear it, but the bottom line is that the Arab states are so much in thrall to the Western nations that we lack the dynamism and dignity to stand up to such insults.
The author is editor-in-chief of Al Quds al Arabi newspaper. This article was translated from the Arabic published on 7 October
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.