Israel's Doron Almog is a true hero of democracy and human rights — and yet, a British law cynically exploited by pro-Palestinian activists almost led to his arrest.
In 1976, the Israeli Defense Forces hero dropped onto the runway at Uganda's Entebbe airport, pathmarking the way for the Israeli commandos who rescued 256 hostages aboard a hijacked Air France jetliner. Almog was an officer on the airlift that rescued 6,000 Falasha Jews from Ethiopia in the 1980s. As head of Israel's southern command from 2000-2003, he defeated every attempt by terrorists to infiltrate Israel from Gaza. Almog lost five members of his family to a suicide bomber in Haifa in 2003. After the death of his own mentally handicapped son, he founded a charity to provide services to the severely disabled in southern Israel.
In the fall of 2005, Almog visited the United Kingdom on a fundraising mission for his charity. On landing, he was informed that British police officers were waiting to arrest him. A pro-Palestinian British lawyer had sworn out a complaint against Almog for his anti-terrorist work in Gaza. Under British law, any foreign visitor to Britain can be accused of human rights violations by any private person in Britain, and brought before a British court to answer for actions taken anywhere on Earth.
Almog remained on the plane, and returned to Israel without disembarking. He was the first Israeli to be attacked in British court in this way, but not the last. In the years since 2005, pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly attempted to use British law as a weapon against Israelis, most recently against former foreign minister Tzipi Livni in December 2009.
The Livni case embarrassed the British government, as well it should.
Shortly after the 2010 British elections, the new British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the Jerusalem Post:
"We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians, or indeed this will apply to many other nations as well, feel they cannot visit this country… So this has to be put right and that is well understood and agreed in the coalition government."
Britain's coalition Conservative-Liberal government has lived up to its word, introducing a new law that would introduce a new safeguard: No foreign visitor could be arrested for foreign actions without the approval of the country's chief prosecutor.
The change in the law is small in scope. Britain has not abandoned its claims to universal jurisdiction. It continues to assert the right to arrest any foreign person for any alleged human rights violation anywhere on the planet. Henceforward, however, these arrests can no longer be sworn out by litigious individuals on a political mission.
That small change in the law represents a huge change in public policy. Nobody imagined that a British court would actually convict Maj-Gen. Almog for defending his country against terrorist incursion. The lawyers who filed charges against him were hoping to score a propaganda victory by placing handcuffs on a gallant Israeli soldier for the crime of being an Israeli soldier. They hoped to tangle him in legal trouble and legal costs for years on end. He almost surely would have ultimately prevailed — but by then, they would have arrested somebody else.
Very soon, that game will no longer be available in Britain. By restricting who can bring human rights actions against foreign citizens, the new law will ensure that people will only be arrested if they are likely to be convicted. With any luck, that will make sure that the only defendants are actual human rights offenders, such as, for example, the brother of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, who now lives untroubled by the law in a 10-million pound mansion in Mayfair — despite the blood on his hands.
A first version of the revisions to Britain's law was rejected by the House of Lords. However, the law has since been amended, and the government expresses emphatic confidence that this time it will pass.
If so, Britain will have taken a huge step toward redeeming its reputation, and strike a blow against those anti-Israel activists who would hijack Britain's courts and use the law of one free society as a weapon against another — who would pervert the ideals of human rights to expand the arsenal of terrorism.