British lawyers looking for ways to hold Israel accountable for its deadly advance into Gaza last year have expanded their legal campaign by seeking the arrest of Israeli military officers entering Britain.
The attorneys plan to go to British courts to obtain arrest warrants against individuals linked to suspected war crimes so they would be taken into custody if they entered Britain, Daniel Machover, a lawyer coordinating the legal team, said Tuesday.
"We've been collecting evidence for some time," said Machover of the Hickman & Rose firm. "If one of the suspects is coming to the country, we are ready to go to the police and the courts with evidence."
There was no immediate response to the plan from Britain's Ministry of Justice. Israel brushed off the move as part of a harassment campaign by anti-Israeli groups.
"Not one of these suits have ever materialized into a trial, due to an obvious lack of evidence and proof, and this will probably be how this one will end up as well," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Machover said the effort started before the Gaza offensive began in late December and also involves lawyers in other countries who are working to bring cases based on the concept of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to arrest and try people for crimes unrelated to their own territory or nationals.
That means that a suspected war criminal thought to have committed serious crimes in another country could be put on trial in Britain even though the crime was not committed in Britain and didn't involve British nationals.
Universal jurisdiction is accepted by some European countries, including Britain, but rejected by others. Its use has posed a problem for Israeli leaders, especially since a recent U.N. inquiry known as the Goldstone report accused Israel of using excessive force and endangering civilians in Gaza.
That has galvanized pro-Palestinian groups angry over Israel's actions in Gaza, where almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict.
Pro-Palestinian lawyers tried to use universal jurisdiction doctrine to force the arrest of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on war crimes charges during a visit to Britain last month, but his status as a Cabinet minister gave him diplomatic immunity.
It is not yet clear how British courts would view requests for the arrests of serving Israeli military officers.
Machover would not specify which individuals he and other lawyers were pursuing in the courts but said he is working with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza.
"You wouldn't know about it until the person was arrested because we don't want the person to flee," he said.
He said lawyers are also pursuing universal jurisdiction arrest warrants against suspected war criminals from other countries not connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Chris Doyle, director of The Council for Arab-British Understanding, said he welcomed the effort to prosecute Israeli officers.
He said the Goldstone report documented a number of cases in which Israel failed to comply with international law, justifying the use of universal jurisdiction to bring wrongdoers to justice.
"These sorts of legal activities come about because of the failure of many Western governments to hold Israel to account for what it does," he said.
Associated Press Writer Steve Weizman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.