Israel’s army chief arrived in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, after the European nation decided to grant him judicial immunity during his official visit, Ma’an news agency reported.
Lieutenant General Benny Gantz (above), the chief of staff of the Israeli Occupation Forces, is the first Israeli army chief to visit the UK since 1998. According to The Times of Israel, Gantz is to meet with UK Chief of the Defense Staff General David Julian Richards and othersecurity chiefs to discuss military cooperation.
The British government granted Gantz’s trip the status of “special mission,” thus giving him immunity from prosecution by the UK’s criminal justice system, according to a statement by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Gantz is suspected of involvement in the commission of war crimes, particularly in the November 2012 assault on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Operation Pillar of Defense, PCHR said.
The eight-day attack on Gaza led to the death of 162 Palestinians and 5 Israelis.
“The Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Hickman & Rose Solicitors, who represent the victims of Lieutenant General Gantz’s actions, condemn the decision to grant immunity to a suspected war criminal. This decision sends the dangerous message that political considerations will be placed ahead of the rule of law,” PCHR’s statement read.
According to the center, “the UK is under a binding legal obligation to search for and prosecute those suspected of committing war crimes, including before their own national courts.”
“Credible evidence exists indicating Mr. Gantz’s involvement in the commission of war crimes: these allegations should be investigated and, if appropriate, Mr. Gantz should be prosecuted,” PCHR added.
“He should not be pre-emptively granted immunity by the UK Government, circumventing normal criminal justice procedures.”
A week earlier, the UK government also extended special mission status to the visit of Israeli Major General Doron Almog, a retired army official suspected of war crimes, similarly shielding him from British judicial enquiries.
Almog canceled his scheduled UK visit at the last minute for unknown reasons.
In 2005, a British court issued an arrest warrant for Almog in relation to the 2002 destruction of 59 Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp as part of a sustained policy of house demolitions in Gaza, PCHR said.
British police were preparing to arrest Almog on suspicion of war crimes after he and his wife flew to the United Kingdom in 2005, but he refused to leave his plane at Heathrow airport following a tip-off about the arrest warrant and was allowed to return to Israel.
The decision to grant immunity to both Israeli officials “sends the clear message that Israel can commit war crimes in the Gaza Strip with impunity,” PCHR said.
There is a risk, the group said, that special missions will be used to protect allies of the government and undermine the “basic principle of equal application of the law and the UK’s international legal obligation to seek out and prosecute suspected war criminals.”