British Lawyer, Retired Officer Take Opposing Sides Over Gaza War Crimes

Israeli-born Daniel Machover seeking arrest of officers; former colonel Richard Kemp speaks out in support of Israel on TV, at UN

Two British citizens have become the main spokesmen in recent weeks in the international battle over whether Israel Defense Forces soldiers committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. One is a retired British officer and military commentator, and the other is an Israeli-born lawyer specializing in human rights.

Attorney Daniel Machover from London is one of the best known figures in the international group of lawyers and pro-Palestinian activists trying to put IDF officers on trial in European countries for alleged war crimes.

On the other side is former British Army Col. Richard Kemp, who commanded his country's forces in Afghanistan in 2003, and who has turned into one of Israel's and the IDF's staunchest defenders in the international arena in recent months.

During his 30 years in the British Army, in which he fought in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, Kemp was in contact with many Israeli colleagues in the IDF and intelligence organizations. He even introduced parts of the IDF's anti-terror methods into the British Army's doctrine. Since retiring from the army three years ago, Kemp has turned into a sought after TV commentator. During the Gaza operation ten months ago, he asserted that the IDF was using all possible caution to avoid harming civilians. Kemp became a favorite of the British pro-Israel lobby as well as elsewhere in the West, and has become a well-known face on almost every international news station.

Kemp said he assumed he attracted so much attention because he was one of the very few who is not Jewish or Israeli willing to present what he saw as an objective view on what happened during Cast Lead, and was willing to come out against the standard thinking in the West about the IDF.

Kemp also testified before the UN Human Rights Council on the Goldstone report, supporting the IDF. He told the special session: "Based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare ... Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes... More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas' way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians ... Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets."

The list of officers

Machover, on the other hand, has no doubts that IDF soldiers and officers committed war crimes in Gaza. He also says he has a list connecting various officers to the alleged war crimes, and when those officers step foot on British soil - or in other European countries with similar, appropriate laws - they may be arrested and put on trial.

Machover was behind the arrest order against the former head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, Almog evaded arrest by staying on the plane after he landed at London's Heathrow Airport and returning immediately to Israel.

Anyone surprised by the activities of the Israeli-born lawyer does not know his family history. His parents, radical left-wing activists, left Israel in 1968 when Machover was five. His father, Moshe Machover, was a math professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of the founders of the Matzpen movement.

Daniel Machover says his work is not directed against Israel specifically, explaining that he is involved in work to bring war criminals from many countries around the world to trial - and the point is to ensure they have nowhere to hide.

Machover says Israel takes up only part of his time and he is working on cases involving suspects from six other countries too, some from elsewhere in the Middle East. His London office is busy preparing cases against them to procure arrest warrants.

He says the Israelis are mistaken in thinking they are being singled out. So far the only foreign citizen convicted in Britain of war crimes committed in a foreign country was an Afghani convicted in 2005 of torture and sentenced to 20 years in prison.