Should we arrest Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for War Crimes?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, makes a state visit to the United Kingdom this week and some people want to see him arrested.


What’s the story?

Petition: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv...Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv March 18, 2015. Netanyahu claimed victory in Israel's election after exit polls showed he had erased his center-left rivals' lead with a hard rightward shift in which he abandoned a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Benjamin Netanyahu: guilty of war crimes?

A parliamentary petition has been signed by over 100,000 people in the UK and is now being considered for debate in parliament.

The petition, created by Damian Moran, aims to “shine a spotlight” on Israel’s military action on the Gaza strip in 2014 and calls for the arrest of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Supporters of the petition argue that the death of approximately 1,462 Palestinian civilians during the 50-day war should mean that Netanyahu be arrested and tried for war crimes.

Israel isn’t the only one to be accused of breaking international law in this way.

A United Nations investigation into the 2014 Gaza war concluded that both Hamas (governing political and military body in charge of the Gaza strip) and Israel were guilty of committing war crimes during this war. Both sides stand accused of breaking international humanitarian and international human rights laws.

Mr Netanyahu is reportedly travelling to the UK to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss both Israel’s strong opposition to the recent Iran nuclear deal and issues of mutual interest with the UK.


Where did this Gaza stuff all begin?

Should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested for war crimes in Gaza?

Contested Land: The Gaza Strip in Israel

Military action on the Gaza strip in 2014 dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’ by the Israeli military, started for a number of reasons. It’s vital that this petition is put in context.

The Gaza strip is a 360km2 area of land located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it shares borders with Israel and Egypt.

It has a population of 1.8 million people and forms part of the Palestinian Territories along with the occupied West Bank (which is not governed by Hamas).

Gaza’s population is 99% Sunni Muslim with the other 1% being Christian. Israel’s population is 75% Jewish, 17.5% Muslim, 2% Christian and 1.5% Druze.

Note: Israel and Palestine have a longstanding and extremely complex geo-political and religious relationship.

This most recent military confrontation between Israel and Hamas began on July 8th 2014 and ended on the 27th August 2014. This is the third war between Israel and Hamas in six years.



Why did the war start?

Should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested for war crimes in Gaza?

Under attack: Gaza was hit by airstrikes

Given the long history between the two sides there is inevitable dispute about the trigger for the war. Israel claims that it began in response to rocket attacks from Hamas – starting with the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip and followed by a land invasion.

Hamas claims their rocket attacks were a response to Israeli air attacks that followed the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the Occupied West Bank. Which the Palestinians in turn have argued was in response to Israel’s earlier shooting of two Palestinian youths in May 2014. Confused much?

During and since the war of summer 2014, Israel has defended its actions in Gaza on the basis of two factors; the threat Hamas rockets posed on Israeli citizens and the network of tunnel’s built between Gaza and Israel leaving Israel vulnerable to infiltration.

The United Nations estimate that 2,104 (a large proportion of which were civilians) Palestinians from the Gaza strip were killed, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians were killed during the 50-day military conflict between Israel and Hamas.

As war continued there was international pressure for the fighting to stop and endless rounds of ceasefire agreements didn’t come to reality until August 27th 2014.

The Israeli military known as the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has estimated that their air strikes and ground invasion killed 1000 terrorists in Gaza, people they deem threatened the state of Israel.


What is a war crime?

The current headquarters of the ICC in The Hague.  Benjamin Netanyahu would face charges here if arrested for war crimes

Call the Police! The International Criminal Court

In a nutshell: the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created in July 1998 at a conference attended by 160 states. They established a permanent international criminal court in the Netherlands and adopted a treaty called the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Rome Statue sets out crimes that fall within the control of the ICC.

The Geneva Conventions are a set of guidelines that form the core of international humanitarian law which regulates the conduct of armed conflict. The original guidelines were written up in the 1860s, these were updated and signed after WWII. They basically protect people who are not part of the military conflict.

War crimes are committed when innocent people are targeted when they are not involved in the armed conflict and this is what both Hamas and Israel are being accused of.


Why is it hitting the headlines now?

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is never far from the front pages, but it’s been back in the news due to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his upcoming trip to London.

During and since ‘Operation Protective Edge’ international support for Palestine has grown. Awareness of the Palestine-Israeli conflict has increased both in the UK and around the world attracting rising numbers of pro Palestine supporters. Over the past year Palestine has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) in an effort to make Israel accountable for its actions in Gaza. Palestine has also been formally recognised by a number of countries including France and Sweden. Israel is also a member of the ICC.

Supporters of Palestine see this as an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu to take responsibility for his actions.


How Petitions work:

The UK petition to have Benjamin Netanyahu arrested for war crimes

Petitions need 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate in parliament

The process of a petition works like this, it’s online and anyone can start one. If a parliamentary petition gets 100,000 signatures or over, the issue being petitioned is almost always debated in the Houses of Parliament.

The petition created by Damian Moran states;

“Benjamin Netanyahu is to hold talks in London this September. Under International Law he should be arrested for war crimes on his arrival in the UK for the massacre of over 200 civilians in 2014”.

However, the petition is proving divisive. Those in opposition argue that Mr Netanyahu has the right to defend his nation like any other Prime Minister or President. Some have accused those in support of the petition of being linked to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which, amongst other goals, seeks to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza through boycotting, divesting funds and sanctions against Israel. A movement which in itself has been gaining support since the Gaza war of 2014.

The Israeli Embassy has described the petition as a “meaningless publicity stunt” and stated that UK-Israel relations have “never been closer” and that trade between the UK and Israel has “doubled over recent years, while academic, scientific and cultural cooperation is constantly growing”.

The petition has over 100,000 signatures but Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrest won’t happen. If a parliamentary petition gains just 10,000 signatures the UK government is required to give an official response. They stated:

“Under UK and international law, visiting heads of foreign governments, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, have immunity from legal process and cannot be arrested or detained”.

Now that the petition has over 100,000 the UK government has to consider this petition for a debate in Parliament. Mr Moran has said of the petition that it’s a clear message to Benjamin Netanyahu that there are significant numbers of people who don’t want him in the UK.


Would Benjamin Netanyahu be the first to be arrested?

Israeli Politician Tzipi Livni sits infront of microphones

Also wanted: Tzipi Livni

This isn’t the first time Israeli diplomats visiting the UK have been threatened with being arrested. Back in 2009 the Foreign Office had to confirm “special mission” status for Tzipi Livni, then one of Israel’s leading opposition politicians, prior to a visit to the UK.

Lawyers representing the relatives of a Palestinian killed in the bombing of a police compound during Israel’s military action in Gaza in 2008 sought Livni’s arrest.

In June 2015, former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz did not arrange diplomatic immunity prior to his trip to London. Lawyers representing pro Palestinian groups in the UK tried to have him arrested on the basis of alleged breaches of international law. Swift action by the Israeli embassy in London and the British embassy in Israel meant that arrests were avoided.


What does this tell us about UK Israel relations?

Well, economically things are looking pretty good for both Israel and the UK. Annual trade between the two countries often exceeds £5.5 billion dollars. The UK is Israel’s second largest trading partner after America.

The UK’s main exports to Israel include vehicles, pharmaceuticals, general machinery, chemicals and plastics. Israel’s exports to the UK include pharmaceuticals, gems and precious metals, plastics and machines, engines and pumps. Despite considerable efforts from the BDS movement to place economic and political pressure on Israel, UK-Israeli trade relations reached record levels between January and August 2014.

The UK government’s official policy on Israel & Palestine is to promote a two state solution, this means two different states for the two different groups of people; an independent State of Israel and an independent State of Palestine.

Despite there being no possibility of Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrest, the petition highlights the nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It’s complicated and divides opinion both within Israel, in the UK and around the world. The petitions debate in Parliament is being considered, this is another step in the road and it’s not going to end here.  


Gaza Learnings: Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be arrested but that doesn’t mean we can forget about Gaza.

Should Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested? Sign the petition if you agree.


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