UK police summon Israeli ex-FM Livni over alleged war crimes during Gaza conflict

Tzipi Livni © Andrew Kelly
Israel has revealed its former foreign minister Tzipi Livni was summoned for questioning by the Metropolitan Police for alleged war crimes which were committed against Palestinians in 2008-9.

The summons was issued Thursday, but was only made public three days later.

The summons was canceled after diplomatic talks were held between Israel and the UK, which ended in Livni’s visit to London acquiring the status of a "special diplomatic assignment,” Haaretz reported. This effectively granted her immunity from arrest and prosecution. She had been in Britain to attend a conference organized by the Israeli newspaper and the British Jewish Community.

Livni, who is now a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was wanted for questioning by British police regarding her role in possible war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, as she was the foreign minister, vice prime minister and member of the diplomatic security cabinet at the time.

The summons provoked a furious response from opposition leader Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, who sent a strongly worded letter to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asking him to make sure that this incident would not be repeated in the future.

"In the context of the last few days, during which a 13-year old girl Israeli girl and a Rabbi were among those murdered by Palestinian terrorists [this] makes a mockery of the British government's calls for unity in fighting radical Islamist terror," the letter read, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

Abandoning normal diplomatic protocol, the UK opted to approach Livni directly, rather than going through the Israeli Embassy in London. After receiving the summons, the Israeli foreign minister informed her diplomatic mission, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Office and the Justice Ministry, Haaretz reports.

Livni visited the UK last year, and was granted diplomatic immunity by the British government to avoid the possibility of arrest during her stay in the country. She was able to qualify for legal immunity by arranging meetings with British officials, exploiting a legal loophole that protects Israelis on official visits to the UK.

Speaking about being summoned by the police, Livni said she had decided to go public about her ordeal.

"I'm proud of the decisions I made as a cabinet minister in the Israeli government," Livni said, as cited by Haaretz, while adding that she believed that “the British legal system is being abused.”

"The fact that Israeli decision-makers and army commanders are forced to participate in a 'theater of the absurd' when we come to London is something that is not acceptable," she said. "It's not a personal issue, it's a moral issue and this is something that needs to be changed,” she mentioned.

As Israeli Foreign Minister during the 2008-09 Gaza War, Livni was involved in the decision to take military action in response to rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip. The rocket fire itself was in response to a November 4, 2008 incident, when IDF soldiers killed several Hamas fighters in a military incursion.

Livni told reporters at the time: “We have proven to Hamas that we have changed the equation. Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”

A UN investigation found Israel had used excessive force which unfairly impacted on civilians, as well as using Palestinians as human shields by forcing them to enter houses which might be booby trapped.

Some 926 Palestinian civilians were killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. The report concluded Israel had violated articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.