The danger of arrest will prevent Public Security Minister Avi Dichter from attending a conference in London, where he was supposed to participate as a top-level expert panelist and in a working group, the Public Security Ministry confirmed Thursday.
The International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, an organization affiliated with King's College, London had invited the minister to participate on a panel entitled "Security Challenges" as well as in a working group which will discuss security intelligence and terrorist finances during the center's two-day conference in January.
Ministry sources had expressed concern when the invitation was extended to the minister in late September that such a problem could arise, due to the minister's involvement in the targeted assassination of Hamas operative Salah Shehadeh in 2002.
Drawn to Dichter because of his combination of political status and field expertise, conference organizers contacted the Israeli Embassy in London, and were also told there that Dichter might face arrest if he entered the United Kingdom.
Dichter would not have been the only high-level participant from a conflict zone - the vice president of Colombia, a former president of Colombia and a former prime minister of Sudan are all expected to participate. In addition, two former prime ministers of Ireland, US Senator Chuck Hegel and a number of senior members of the British security service are all expected to attend, some of whom were supposed to share the podium with Dichter in the panel discussion.
Dichter is also not alone as the only high-level Israeli official or former official to be effectively barred from entering the United Kingdom.
Two years ago Haaretz reported that there were standing citizens' complaints lodged in London Magistrate's Court against several Israeli officers, including former chiefs-of-staff Moshe Ya'alon and Dan Halutz, waiting to be transformed into arrest warrants charging the officers with serious war crimes. If the court wanted to, it could issue the warrants the moment the officers stepped on British soil.
This arrangement is based on the application of universal jurisdiction in Britain. Parliament has incorporated the Fourth Geneva Convention into the British statute book, making it a part of domestic law. The convention obliges states to either put on trial or extradite anyone on its soil suspected of committing a grave breach of the conventions.
The principle of universal jurisdiction is that the country may try anyone suspected of a war crime, even if the suspect is not a citizen of the country and did not commit the alleged crime in the country.
It is not clear whether there is a standing complaint against Dichter, who served as head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during the second intifada. But that is a moot point, since any British citizen can lodge one at any time.
According to Dichter aide, Matti Gil, the public security minister asked the Foreign Ministry for advice before deciding whether to go to London. Ministry officials told him that he could, indeed, be arrested, said Gill. They also told him there was no chance to obtain immunity for him during his visit. Dichter decided to stay home rather than risk arrest.
Two years ago, on September 11, 2005, another Israeli officer, former O/C South Maj.-Gen. Doron Almog, had a close call while on board an El Al flight headed for London. The Israeli ambassador to England, Zvi Hefetz, learned that a warrant had been issued for his arrest for an incident during the intifada in which he had allegedly destroyed a Palestinian home.
The Foreign Ministry messaged Almog via the airplane's communications system, warning him that he might be arrested on arrival. He remained on board and flew straight home.
According to Prof. Yoram Dinstein, a world-renowned expert on international law, the issue of universal law is serious. "We have a real problem on our hands," he told The Jerusalem Post. "It will apparently only be solved in the framework of an overall peace treaty with the Palestinians."
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