Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, the commander of the Israeli army unit along the Gaza border, has cancelled a trip to Britain to join the Royal College of Defense Studies, fearing possible arrest and persecution on charges of war crimes against the Palestinians.
Kochavi served as a senior commanding officer in an operation in Jenin refugee camp and other West Bank areas in which nearly 1000 civilians were killed (according to hospital figures), and 1/3 of the camp was completely obliterated, in March and April 2002.
Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot said Kochavi’s "key" role in the attack, called "Operation Defensive Shield" by the Israeli army, could be used against him if he visited London.
"At this point, to send him to London, or any other officer who fought in the territories, is a danger," a security source told the Yediot Ahronot daily.
According to the Israeli media, Kochavi’s decision to cancel his London trip was taken in light of an arrest warrant issued six months ago against former Israeli commander of the Gaza Strip Doron Almog.
Last year, Almog narrowly escaped capture after a London magistrate had issued a warrant for arresting him for his role in a 2002 bombing raid that killed 15 Palestinians, many of them children.
Israel’s ambassador in London, Tzvi Hefetz, spoke with Almog during his flight, and advised him not to get off the plane.
Britain is one of several European countries which allow investigations of war crimes involving foreign nationals if the suspect’s own country is unwilling or unable to act. The suspect can be arrested upon his or her arrival in the UK. After Kochavi cancelled his trip, Israeli officials demanded a change in the British law.
In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon avoided a visit to Belgium in 2003 where he could have been arrested under the then "universal competence law" for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The 1993 law, which was repealed by Belgium later following extensive Israeli lobbying, enabled Belgian courts to examine cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide regardless of where the outrages were perpetrated.
The Israeli human rights group "Yesh Gvul," which was a party to the legal complaint filed against Almog in Britain, warned that Israeli officers and soldiers would be ‘wanted’ worldwide due to human rights violations in the territories.
"The time has come for the Supreme Court in Israel and the military and civilian judicial systems to start treating suspicions of war crimes seriously," said the organization.
There has been mounting dissent within Israeli officers about the army’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A number of senior officers of elite army units have spoken out publicly about the military’s "immoral" policies in the occupied territories in letters published by Israeli newspapers.
Several hundred ‘refuseniks’, which include some senior officers reservists further refused to carry out their compulsory military service in the occupied territories.