Unwelcome

Observations on Israel

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, attracted some rare sympathetic coverage last month when he visited Israel to raise the cases of two British citizens shot by the Israeli army in Gaza in 2003. Coroners in Britain have ruled that Israeli investigations into the killing of the cameraman James Miller and the peace activist Tom Hurndall were inadequate, and Goldsmith put the Israeli government under pressure to think again.

An Israeli diplomatic source, however, has told the New Statesman that this was not the only reason for the trip, or even the "real" reason. The other, discreet, item on the agenda was "to try to find a way to resolve the issue of IDF generals visiting Britain". The IDF is the Israel Defence Forces - the country's army.

Such visits to Britain have been a problem since last September, when Major General Doron Almog landed at Heathrow and flew out again without disembarking, after learning that a warrant had been issued in London for his arrest on suspicion of war crimes. The warrant, which linked Almog with the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza, had been issued by a senior judge under the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957, after an application by his alleged Palestinian victims.

That affair caused much embarrassment. Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, apologised to the Israelis, who have since been pressing for British law to be changed to prevent it happening again. Reports in February that the government was considering ways to meet the Israeli demand provoked outrage among human-rights groups.

Goldsmith's spokesperson denied that this was the real purpose of his visit to Israel, but she confirmed that Israeli concerns about the Almog case were discussed.

This dual mission must have placed Goldsmith in an awkward position, on the one hand arguing for a reinvestigation of the killings of Hurndall and Miller, with those responsible held to account, and on the other discussing ways to make it possible for IDF generals to visit Britain without risk of being held to account for alleged war crimes. The awkwardness can only have been increased by the knowledge that Almog himself may well have been in the chain of command responsible for the town of Rafah at the time Hurndall was shot there.

Although the families of Miller and Hurndall have not been briefed on the results of Goldsmith's visit, they are encouraged that it took place at all, after experiencing frustration with the Foreign Office. According to the film-maker Dan Edge, a friend of the Millers who was with James when he was shot: "The family are placing a lot of faith in what Goldsmith can or cannot achieve. Rightly or wrongly, they genuinely believe he has James's best interests at heart."