This morning I tried to arrest an Israeli military strategist over his development of weapons intended for use in killing Palestinians.
Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former head of research in both Israel’s army and its defense ministry, was standing outside a meeting room in a luxurious Brussels hotel when I arrived shortly after nine o’clock. Initially, I walked past him and approached the registration desk for the “terrorism technology” conference at which he was speaking.
“Good morning,” I said to a woman behind the desk. “My name is Cronin.”
A man in a dark suit then approached me. “Cronin?” he said. “You are David?” (I hadn’t given my first name).
“That’s right,” I replied. He and the woman flicked through the registration list for the event and told me that my name wasn’t on it. When I explained that I had sent an email message to the organisers last week expressing my wish to attend, they responded that it was a private event. “But it is funded by the European Union. And it was publicly announced on the internet,” I said.
The conversation continued in that vein for a moment or two, until the man said to me, “You want the police? We have the police.” (I hadn’t asked for the police).
I looked behind me and saw two other men. “Are you from the hotel’s security?” I asked. “No, we are Belgian intelligence,” one of them replied.
“That man over there is Mr Ben-Israel,” I said, pointing to him. “I have come here to make a citizen’s arrest of that man. Mr Ben-Israel, you are charged with crimes against humanity. I invite you to present yourself to these police officers here.”
One of the officers asked me to identify myself. “My name is Dave Cronin, I am a freelance journalist,” I said. “I believe that Mr Ben-Israel has developed weapons for the express purpose of killing Palestinians.”
I tried to elaborate but the two policemen were already taking me down the stairs. In the hotel lobby, they asked me for my ID card and wrote down my contact details. I requested that they take a statement from me, explaining why Ben-Israel should be arrested. Although they agreed to listen to my argument, they refused to take a formal statement, telling me instead to visit a police station.
A retired major-general, Ben-Israel has been involved in developing some of the nastiest weapons in Israel’s arsenal. There is prima facie evidence that he provided his expertise to an Israeli team that have adapted the US-made weapon DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) for use in Gaza. In 2006, Ben-Israel indicated he was privy to the testing of DIME, which slices off limbs and causes severe burns. He praised the weapon in an interview with Italian television, stating that “one of the ideas is to allow those targeted to be hit without causing damage to bystanders or other persons.”
Testimonies gathered from hospitals in Gaza when Israel attacked the Strip in late 2008 and early 2009 told of how unusual metals were found in the bodies of bomb victims. These indicate that DIME may have been used during that three-week assault, Operation Cast Lead.
Ben-Israel has won three national defense awards in Israel for helping to invent weapons. In 1972, he was honored for his role in realizing a bombing system for F-4E warplanes supplied to Israel by the US arms firm McDonnell Douglas. Four years later, he won a similar prize for his contribution to a C4 system to help commanders manage a range of operations. And in 2002, he bagged the Israel Defense Award for “a project introducing a new concept of future warfare.”
Rejoicing in murder
A member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) from 2007 and 2009, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Cast Lead. In a 2009 opinion piece for the news website Ynet, he celebrated how Israel had departed from the rules of armed combat it used to play by (according to him). “Previously, it appeared as though the weak side (Hamas, Hezbollah) could attack Israeli citizens uninterruptedly, while Israel hesitates in utilizing its substantial military power (airplanes, tanks, and guided missiles) for fear of hurting civilians on the other side,” he wrote. “Yet the recent operation showed that even mosques used by terror groups are no longer an obstacle in the face of Israel using its military power.”
It is nauseating that someone who exults in the mass murder of civilians can be a guest at an EU-sponsored conference. As I wrote earlier this week, another crime committed by Ben-Israel is that he sits on the board of trustees for Ariel University, which is located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The EU’s representatives know well that such settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbid an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into a territory that it occupies.
Ben-Israel looked slightly puzzled when I confronted him today. He has probably not encountered previous attempts to hold him accountable for his crimes. Well, he will have to get used to those efforts. Wherever he and other members of Israel’s political and military elite go, they can expect to face demands for justice.