The British government's panic over the recent warrant issued by a British magistrate's court for the arrest of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and its subsequent determination to change the law to prevent a similar situation arising again, reveals a lot about the sincerity of much of the official propaganda we have been subjected to over the past decade.
As a member of Israel's war cabinet during the Gaza massacre, Livni 'played a key role in decisions made before and during the three-week offensive'. That 'offensive', recall, was launched after Israel unilaterally violated two separate ceasefires, both of which were adhered to by Hamas, and rejected repeated offers from Hamas for a third (in the words of former President Jimmy Carter: "Hamas had offered to extend the cease-fire in December, but the Israelis were not willing to do it"). In the course of the massacre, which involved [.pdf] the "systematic destruction of civilian buildings" and indiscriminate and "intentional attacks on civilians", including with flechette shells and white phosphorus, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority of them civilians, including hundreds of children.
Subsequently, numerous independent investigations of Israel's conduct during the 'Cast Lead' attack - most notably the UN inquiry [.pdf] chaired by Richard Goldstone, the Arab League inquiry [.pdf] chaired by Prof. John Dugard, and the detailed investigations by Amnesty International [.pdf] and Human Rights Watch - have accused Israel of perpetrating war crimes, possibly amounting to "crimes against humanity". The Goldstone report also explicitly and repeatedly accused Israel of practicing terrorism:
"the treatment of these civilians constitutes the infliction of a collective penalty on those persons and amounts to measures of intimidation and terror. Such acts are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime"
"the rounding-up of large groups of civilians and their prolonged detention under the circumstances described in this Report constitute a collective penalty on those persons … [and] amounts to measures of intimidation or terrorism prohibited by article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention"
"[Israel] viewed disproportionate destruction and creating the maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve not only military but also political goals [i.e. terrorism]"
This isn't a verdict that should surprise the British government. 'Cast Lead' was, after all, governed by the same logic as that underpinning the now nearly four-year old siege of Gaza, which the Department for International Development [.pdf], for instance, has long recognised to be "collective punishment" as "part of a political strategy to get Hamas to sign up to the Quartet principles", with the prolonged border closures intended to further the "political objective" of "isolating Hamas". In other words, terrorism.
During the massacre Tzipi Livni engaged in "intensive diplomatic activity" aimed at, in her words, "deflecting the pressure for a cease-fire" - pressure that was coming from, among others, Hamas. She rejected calls for a reciprocal ceasefire on the grounds that "[t]here is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas". Prior to the attack, while Hamas was offering to agree another truce with Israel, Livni argued strongly for a military offensive and pledged regime change through military and economic as well as diplomatic means. She rejected a truce with Hamas, maintaining that an extended ceasefire "harms the Israel[i] strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognizes the movement", and promised a campaign of political assassinations against Hamas officials. During the massacre, Livni spoke proudly of Israel's "wild" attacks in Gaza, and after it was finally over she criticised Barak and Netanyahu for being too soft on Hamas:
"There are those sitting with the Hamas regime who want to reach understandings with the group, and there are those [referring to herself] working to bring an end to the Hamas regime. A settlement with Hamas would give it legitimacy, and those working for that with the Egyptians [to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement] need to understand that".
Just a couple of weeks after the attack had finished, Livni was agitating for renewed military action in Gaza, and to this day, despite the multiple detailed studies (see above) documenting the extensive economic and human devastation caused by Israel's attack, she remains "proud of all her decisions regarding Operation Cast Lead".
Livni is, in short, an unrepentant terrorist. Hence the arrest warrant.
There is no legal basis for the British government's interference in what is supposed to be an independent judicial process in order to shield Livni from justice. As Sir Geoffrey Bindman, who represented Amnesty International and others in the case against General Pinochet, points out, Livni is a private citizen and who was not visiting on diplomatic business. David Miliband's apology to Livni is particularly galling in light of the fact that he just last week signed an EU document pledging "to promote an international order where no state or individual is above the law and no person is outside the protection of the law". Neither have I encountered any remotely plausible non-legal argument defending the government's approach. Interestingly, no one is arguing that the arrest warrant is (er) unwarranted because Livni is innocent - Israel's actions in Gaza, actions that Livni bears direct responsibility for, are indefensible, and everyone knows it. Thus in his appearance on Newsnight Stephen Pollard focused on issues of legal process, ignoring the substance of the charges against Livni completely, and even the Times, which branded attempts by human rights activists to use the justice system to actually secure justice "repugnant", restricted itself to the observation that the Gaza massacre was "not the genocide at Srebrenica", surely a new benchmark for faint praise.
The other justification offered for the decision - that arresting Livni would somehow damage the "peace process" and Britain's involvement in it - is no more convincing. One, because as an opposition figure Livni isn't part of any peace process; two, because Livni is on record as rejecting the international consensus two-state settlement; and three, because no meaningful peace process currently exists, thanks in no small part to the British government's strong support for Israeli rejectionism and its ongoing complicity in the siege of Gaza, which continues to prevent any real reconstruction from taking place.
As men who themselves bear direct responsibility for wars of aggression and the appalling human rights abuses that followed, it is understandable that Brown and Miliband are hostile to the concept of universal jurisdiction. Indeed, Livni's grandiose claim that the warrant for her arrest amounted to a warrant against all democracies fighting terrorism was pointedly directed at the architects of Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, in their eagerness to welcome Livni and protect her from judicial investigation Brown and Miliband have once again illustrated the bankruptcy of the official propaganda underlying the "war on terror". As long as they're our terrorists, the British government is positively delighted to receive them.
All this aside, the arrest warrant for Livni is an important victory for Palestinian solidarity activists. We are not yet at the stage where the actual prosecution of Israeli officials is a realistic prospect, but the achievement is significant nonetheless because, in the context of the British government's decision to advise supermarkets to indicate where produce has been grown or manufactured in an Israeli settlement and the continuing growth of the BDS movement, it represents further evidence that Israel is losing the argument. As Juan Cole comments,
"Israeli militarism and expansionism have jumped the shark when it comes to European public opinion, and this sea change will have real world effects as boycotts spread against this growing Apartheid".
Livni will escape justice for now, but Israeli officials will not be able to keep running for ever (deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon also recently turned down a visit to Britain fearing arrest). Until then, it's up to us to keep the pressure on, through active solidarity, boycott and, most importantly, organising to end our governments' support for the occupation.
For reference, below is the response of the (Israeli) Coalition of Women for Peace to Livni's arrest warrant:
Coalition of Women for Peace to Tzipi Livni:
"Cooperate with any international investigation against you"
This morning (Wed. 16/12/09), the Women's Coalition for Peace sent a translation of the Goldstone Report to Knesset Member Tzipi Livni (head of the opposition and Foreign Minister during the "Cast Lead" offensive), who received notice of a warrant for her arrest in Britain this week. In a letter attached to the report, Coalition members wrote: "we are convinced that if you refer to the report you will understand why British citizens and organizations have turned to the courts with a request to issue a warrant for your arrest."
The report directly refers to remarks by senior political figures in Israel which encouraged indiscriminate attacks on civilians, in contradiction of international law. It is in this context that MK Tzipi Livni is quoted as saying, on 13 January 2009, that "we have proven to Hamas that the equation has been altered. Israel is a state that, when its citizens are shot at, will respond insanely. And that's a good thing."
Furthermore, runs the letter, "the Goldstone Report details a long list of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations […] In addition, the report surveys the extent of the damage to industrial infrastructure, food production, water facilities, sewage infrastructure and residential buildings; the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and the targeting of medical staff. The testimony of Israeli soldiers corroborates the allegations made in the Report that during Cast Lead heinous war crimes were committed.
"The attention of the Goldstone Commission was drawn to the way the military operations affected women particularly adversely. The responsibility of women towards their homes and children forced them to deal for a period of weeks with extraordinary difficulties caused by impossible conditions which denied them of the means of sustenance – including access to food, water, heating supplies and protection against the rain, shelter, intentional attacks on civilians, destruction of infrastructure and denial of medical attention. Women suffered most of all from the attack which you helped lead, and for which you served as the international spokesperson.
"As a feminist organization active in Israel, we consider that only a process of legal investigation and prosecution of war criminals by the international community has the power to bring a measure of justice to the women and men of Gaza. In our opinion the correct reaction on your part to the Goldstone Report would be a coming to terms with the wholesale murder with which you collaborated freely as a senior minister in the Israeli government as part of an election campaign. We call on you to cooperate with any international investigation that may be opened against you and to counsel your colleagues in the government and military to do the same.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander