Last September, former IDF Southern Commander Doron Almog was advised not to deplane at London's Heathrow Airport after Muslim groups filed suit against him for "war crimes" during his stint as head of the IDF Gaza division from 1993-95 and head of the IDF Southern Command starting in 2000.
And Sunday, Israel radio reported that Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington, has asked the U.S. state department to dismiss lawsuits against IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon and former Shin Bent director Avi Dichter
But Israel may be making a mistake by avoiding these lawsuits, for several reasons. By running away, Israel gives the clear impression it is guilty of all charges. In addition, Israel is missing a fantastic PR opportunity.
An overseas trial of senior Israeli officials is sure to be a first-rate media circus, on par with the celebrity trials of Michael Jackson and former American football star O.J. Simpson. If physically violent Israeli - Palestinian clashes draw high ratings on CNN and the BBC, a political trial would blow the roof off the ratings higher than a suicide bomber blowing the roof off an Egged bus.
Such a trial would allow Israel to pick up the gauntlet, turn the tables and use the media spotlight to put the Palestinians on trial for both war crimes and propaganda excesses against Israeli civilians.
Israel would have little trouble defending itself against charges that Israeli soldiers intentionally target Palestinian civilians. Although this is a persistent Arab claim, the facts speak for themselves: since the Oslo process began in 1993, Israel has acted determinedly and consistently to reduce friction between the IDF and Palestinian civilians, at a time when Palestinian terrorism skyrocketed to levels never imagined prior to the PLO relocation from Tunis to Gaza the following year.
During the fight against growing terrorism, the IDF has consistently tried to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, occasionally sacrificing the lives of IDF soldiers in order to protect innocent Palestinians, such as in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
While it is true that Palestinian civilians are often killed in IDF operations, this is due to the Palestinian's use of human shields to ensure a high civilian toll for the PR benefit of such deaths. There are many examples of this, they are well documented, and a show-trial in the international media spotlight would be an excellent opportunity to highlight them.
Turning the tables
Such a trial presents a fantastic opportunity for Israel to turn the tables on the Palestinians and to expose Palestinian war crimes, in English, for the world to see.
What better way to gain world-wide exposure for the fine work of Palestinian Media Watch, an organization that monitors state-run Palestinian media and features chapter-and-verse on such topics as PA Promoting & Glorifying Terrorism, Teaching Children to Aspire Death for Allah, and Rape, Murder, Violence and War for Allah Against the Jews: Summer 2000 on Palestinian Television , with translations into English, French, Russian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German and Dutch?
One expert witness for the defense could be former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat, who says he was taught in his Jordanian school that "Arabs are beloved, Jews are dogs" BEFORE the 1967 Six Day War.
Shoebat is routinely boycotted by university conferences on the "Palestinian question." A trial would be a great platform to get his message the widespread exposure it deserves.
"You don't 'join' a terrorist organization," says Shoebat, "it's (the result of) collective incitement of millions of children – in school, in the social arena, in clubs, in mosques, on the Temple Mount, on the street, in graffiti. It is absolutely part of the culture, part of our upbringing."
Another defense witness might be Michigan-born Ibrahim Abdullah, who says Western Muslims are "born and bred" to hate all things Western, and who says there is "no question" that there are conscious, open efforts in Western mosques and madrassas to fund and cultivate al-Qaeda terror cells to strike Western targets.
"Just look at the London bombers – it was all a home-grown job," he says.
Academic witnesses could include Justus Reid Weiner, author of The Use of Palestinian children in the al-Aqsa Intifada and Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch and editor of the documentary "Ask for death: The Indoctrination of Palestinian to Seek Death for Allah – Shahada."
They could also include scholars such as Dennis Ross, the Special Middle East Coordinator under U.S. President Bill Clinton and a participant in the fateful Camp David summit of 2000, who places the blame for the failure of that meeting squarely on the shoulders of PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
Or how about British-Israeli Prof. Efraim Karsh, who documents the rise in the number of hospitals, universities, paved roads, indoor plumbing, electricity, and other basic infrastructure during the years of Israeli rule, projects that came to an abrupt halt with the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994.
Discrediting the opposition
Any lawyer will tell you that one of the key elements to winning in court is to discredit the opposition. In the case of the Arabs this shouldn't pose too much of a problem. One need only return to the infamous Jenin "massacre" of 2002, during which Palestinians accused Israel of intentionally murdering more than 500 civilians during fierce fighting, but were eventually forced to admit that the actual number of Palestinian dead was closer to 50, almost all of whom were combatants.
Or how about "official" Palestinian positions about the September 11 attack (the Jews did it), the death of Yasser Arafat (the Jews did it), the Danish cartoons (the Jews did it), and every other problem facing the world.
And what about the beliefs perennially current on the Palestinian street, such as the "fact" that Israel hands out poison candies to Palestinian children, that Israel kills Palestinians with radiation spy machines, and that Israel infects Palestinian children with AIDS.
The trial will be a great opportunity to discredit the Palestinians and their supporters not just with regard to these outlandish claims, but with regard to all claims. After all, if these claims are false, perhaps the rest of their claims are, too?
On a practical level, too, by avoiding such lawsuits, Israel is essentially agreeing to fence itself in – now that Palestinians and their supporters have successfully prevented IDF officers from visiting London, it is only a matter of time before similar efforts are launched in Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, and Australia.
And these efforts will eventually include not just senior IDF officers, but all IDF veterans or reservists - in other words, almost all Israelis. If not checked, this process could well isolate Israel in actual terms, creating an real old-style Jewish ghetto on the shores of the Mediterranean in which Jews will be unable to vacation abroad, study abroad, visit friends and family abroad, etc.
So Israel must rethink its policy towards these lawsuits. They are not going to simply disappear, and Israel must be proactive in dealing with them, both to ensure freedom of movement for all Israelis around, and to capitalize on the best PR opportunity the country has had in many years.
Andrew Friedman is opinion editor of Ynetnews