Almost 80,000 people have signed a petition at the UK Parliament’s website calling for the arrest of the Israeli prime minister when he comes to London for a planned visit next month.
If the number of signatures reaches 100,000, then the matter will be debated in parliament, according to the petitions procedure.
“Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold talks in London this September,” the petition states. “Under international law he should be arrested for war crimes upon arrival in the UK for the massacre of over 2,000 civilians in 2014.”
But in an official response containing several false statements, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron asserts that Netanyahu enjoys immunity, and justifies Israel’s destruction and killings of Palestinians in Gaza as “self-defense.”
“Under UK and international law, visiting heads of foreign governments, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, have immunity from legal process, and cannot be arrested or detained,” the government response states.
“We recognize that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll. As the prime minister said, we were all deeply saddened by the violence and the UK has been at the forefront of international reconstruction efforts,” the government notes. “However the prime minister was clear on the UK’s recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.”
It adds: “We condemn the terrorist tactics of Hamas who fired rockets on Israel, built extensive tunnels to kidnap and murder and repeatedly refused to accept ceasefires. Israel, like any state, has the right to ensure its own security, as its citizens also have the right to live without fear of attack.”
In fact, Hamas and other Palestinian factions have consistently held to ceasefires while Israel has habitually broken them.
Israel has violated the ceasefire agreed on 26 August last year hundreds of times, according to international agencies, with relentless shooting across the Gaza boundary especially at Gaza farmers and fishermen that has caused deaths and injuries.
The independent inquiry into the 51-day Israel assault on Gaza last summer, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council and published in June, found that Palestinian resistance groups only used tunnels dug from Gaza to attack “legitimate military targets” in present-day Israel.
The UK was among the 41 members of the Human Rights Council that voted to “welcome” and accept the report. (Only one government, the US administration of President Barack Obama, voted against it and five abstained.)
Israeli officials must still find official pretexts for visits to the UK in order to ensure they are covered by diplomatic immunity.
Several Israeli officials have narrowly escaped arrest in the UK in recent years, often with official complicity.
The UK changed its law in 2011 specifically so that Israeli war crimes suspects would have an easier time traveling there.
Going to the ICC
In its response to the petition, the UK government also asserts that it “welcome[s] the fact that Israel is conducting internal investigations into specific incidents during Operation Protective Edge,” the name Israel gave its assault that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 551 children in Gaza last summer.
A year later, there have still been no charges in any case. And, as the UK surely knows, Israel’s record when it comes to investigating itself is to provide its personnel with blanket immunity and impunity for killing Palestinians.
“We have also encouraged the Israeli authorities, as we do all countries, to cooperate with the independent Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the preliminary examination into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 13 June,” the UK response adds.
“I honestly don’t expect [Netanyahu] to get arrested,” Damian Moran, who launched the petition, told Al Jazeera. But he added that the growing number of signatures is “a clear message to him that there’s a massive amount of people who don’t want him here.”
Welcoming Netanyahu is only one aspect of UK complicity in Israel’s crimes. The UK continues to allow arms sales to Israel despite the carnage in Gaza.
If the ICC prosecutor resists US and Israeli political pressure and brings charges against Israeli leaders, then under international rules even the diplomatic immunity Netanyahu will hide behind in London would no longer protect him.