'Army pays price for honoring int'l law'

General wanted in UK for war crimes says IDF opted not to demolish house later used to nab Schalit.

doron almog gives report (photo credit: Channel 1)
doron almog gives report
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog finally appeared in London on Wednesday, even if it was only to address a conference via a satellite link. In 2005, Almog avoided arrest at Heathrow Airport after he was warned not to disembark from his El Al flight, because British detectives were waiting to arrest him on war-crime charges. Using a loophole in Britain's Universal Jurisdiction Law, pro-Palestinian campaigners had filed a private criminal complaint, accusing him of committing a crime by ordering the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza in 2002. On Wednesday, Almog addressed a conference in Westminster, central London, titled "Ending Impunity or Decreasing Accountability: Averting Abuse of Universal Jurisdiction." To show that the IDF deferred to the judicial system, Almog said that while he headed the Southern Command, he requested the demolition of a certain house in Gaza. His request was turned down by the legal echelons of the IDF. In June 2006, that house served as cover for the tunnel from Gaza into Israel that was used to kidnap Gilad Schalit. Co-hosted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Henry Jackson Society and the Legacy Heritage Fund, the conference examined the status of "universal jurisdiction" and whether current the legislation is serving its purpose or being abused for political purposes. Experts from three continents joined senior politicians from both houses of Parliament, officials from the Foreign Office and nongovernmental organizations as well as legal experts and academics. The Universal Jurisdiction Law has been used by pro-Palestinian activists to try to arrest former IDF personnel on war-crime charges when they visit the UK. The loophole affects military personnel, even if they are citizens of other countries and the alleged offenses were not committed on British soil. Irit Kohn, former director of the Israeli Justice Ministry's International Department, spoke about how controversial the law is in the legal world. She said it had been exploited to further political agendas. In 2006, then-Gaza Division commander Brig.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi was scheduled to study at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London. Warned by an IDF judge that he could be arrested on arrival, he canceled his trip. Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter, now public security minister, also canceled a trip last year out of concern that a warrant might be issued for his arrest. Wednesday's conference looked at the inner workings of the law and examined the use of universal jurisdiction legislation in recent years, both in recognized war-zones and in areas where genocide or acts of genocide have occurred. It also reviewed cases where lawsuits have been initiated against Western political and military figures. Almog spoke passionately about his case, reminding participants that he had been going to the UK at the time to raise money for Aleh, which provides residential and rehabilitative facilities for mentally and physically disabled adults and children in Israel. His son Eran was cared for at one of Aleh's three facilities, the Moriah Center in Gedera, from age 13 until he died at age 23 in 2007. "I arrived in London because I wanted to build a better future for the weakest sectors in society," Almog said. Almog said that ironically, Israel based its military law on the British Mandate's system. He also said that all IDF soldiers were taught to have a high respect for international law and that there were legal officers integrated at all levels of the army hierarchy. Almog said Israeli groups were involved in the attempt to arrest him. "Groups like Yesh Gvul conspired with groups in London to bypass the Israeli legal system," he said. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president and former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold spoke about how the Universal Jurisdiction Law created enormous dilemmas. "The law has to differentiate between those who are war criminals and those who combat terrorism," he said. Speaking on "Piracy and the Puzzle of Universal Jurisdiction," Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, from Northwestern University, said universal jurisdiction was originally meant to deal solely with piracy. "For 400 years, piracy was the only crime under universal jurisdiction," he said. "Ironically, the UK has told its navy not to arrest pirates for fear of them requesting asylum once captured. "Piracy, the original cause of universal jurisdiction, has to be addressed before the more 'sexy' causes like genocide and crimes against humanity," Kontorovich said. The use of universal jurisdiction expanded in 1998, when a Spanish court issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet while he was in the UK for medical treatment. The House of Lords' rejection of head-of-state immunity for Pinochet was seen at the time as a landmark in the acceptance of universal jurisdiction and the rejection of sovereign rights. In years since, courts in some Western nations have invoked universal jurisdiction to entertain suits against senior political figures such as Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Ariel Sharon and Henry Kissinger, as well as participants in the Rwandan genocide and Argentinean death squads. Many of these cases have been set aside due to diplomatic objections. Supporters have hailed the spread of trials and civil suits based on universal jurisdiction as the end of impunity for gross violations of human rights and terrible crimes. Opponents have attacked the burgeoning universal jurisdiction for undermining state sovereignty, selective and politicized prosecution, undermining human rights and peace-making efforts, and failing to deter future crimes.