Petition to arrest Netanyahu gains momentum in UK

2015-08-23 15:27
(Dan Balilty, AP)

(Dan Balilty, AP)

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London - An online petition urging the arrest of Israel's prime minister for alleged war crimes over the 2014 Gaza war is on course to hit the 100 000 signatures needed to have it debated in the UK parliament. 

"I honestly don't expect him to get arrested because of the universal jurisdiction laws," said Damian Moran, who created the petition in response to Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement he would visit the United Kingdom in September.

"It is a clear message to him that there's a massive amount of people who don't want him here."

Published on August 7, the petition has already gathered more than 76 000 supporters, well past the 10 000 required to get a formal government response.

Petitions that pass the 100 000 mark are considered for debate in parliament.

Arms deal

The main focus of Moran's petition is the 51-day bombardment of Gaza that started in July 2014 and left more than 2 200 Palestinians dead, including 1 492 civilians.

In the same conflict, 66 Israeli soldiers and five civilians were killed.

"Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold talks in London this September. Under international law he should be arrested for war crimes upon arrival in the UK for the massacre of over 2 000 civilians in 2014," the introduction to the campaign reads.

Moran, a Derry-born software developer now living in Manchester, told Al Jazeera he didn't expect anything to come of the campaign, but he wanted to "shine a spotlight" on Israel's military action in Gaza.

"Politicians in the UK support Israel, [Prime Minister] David Cameron supports Israel. The British government has made fresh arms deals with Israel and they can't say for sure whether British weapons were used in the assault on Gaza," Moran said.

"There was a deal approved by David Cameron within weeks of the conflict. It just shouldn't be happening. The people don't want it so why is the government doing it - who works for who here?" Moran said, referring to a $6.3m arms deal approved by the UK, which included components for air-to-surface missiles.

In July this year, the UK government lifted all remaining restrictions over selling arms to Israel. The UK's export criteria is meant to ban sales to anywhere there is a "clear risk" the weapons will be used in human rights abuses.

Weeks have passed since the petition signatures surpassed the number required for a government response, but Moran is still waiting for the government. But he said the main aim is to get the subject debated in parliament - even though he does not expect it to be addressed.

"They'll just say 'blah blah blah, universal jurisdiction, good luck,'" said Moran.

In an e-mail to Al Jazeera, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in London called the petition "a meaningless publicity stunt".

"The relationship between the Israeli and UK governments has never been closer; mutual trade has doubled over recent years, while academic, scientific and cultural cooperation is constantly growing," it said.

"Against this backdrop, the petition you refer to can only be viewed as a meaningless publicity stunt."

War crimes?

It is not the first time the issue of war crimes has been raised in relation to Operation Protective Edge, as it was dubbed by the Israeli armed forces.

Shortly after the bombardment ended, Amnesty International said: "It appears that the attacks directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes". 

Following the 2014 war the human rights organisation released a report chronicling the actions of the Israelis towards Palestinian citizens.

"Israeli forces… brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee.

"The repeated, disproportionate attacks on homes indicate that Israel's current military tactics are deeply flawed and fundamentally at odds with the principles of international humanitarian law," Luther added.

Netanyahu, however, defended Israel's actions and dismissed criticism from international organisations, including the UN.

"Israel defends itself according to international law and we are not the only ones to say so," the prime minister said in a public address in 2014.

Regardless of the validity of the online petition, it is unlikely to yield any real results.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Al Jazeera that under international law, "visiting heads of foreign governments have immunity from legal process, and cannot be arrested or detained".

For Moran, however, the point was not the actions of the government, but the reaction of the public.

"I wasn't expecting to get much more than 10 000 [signatures]," he said. "I just wanted to shed some light on things. I don't want it to be ignored."

Read more on:    david cameron  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  uk

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