What’s Gerry been up to in Israel?

4 May

Gerry-Brownlee-MY

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon with NZ Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee

NZ Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has just visited Israel and met with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon who has long been accused of participating in war crimes in Gaza. In 2006 the then NZ Attorney-General Michael Cullen over-ruled a District Court judge’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against the visiting former Israeli general, Moshe Ya’alon. The judge believed Ya’alon was answerable for Middle East war crimes.

Auckland District Court Judge Avinash Deobhakta issued warrants ordering the arrest of Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israeli Defence Force chief of staff and head of intelligence.

The warrants were in response to information laid with the court under New Zealand’s obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Convention. [See below: NZ Herald report published 1 December 2006].

Brownlee’s covert visit also included the Sinai and Syria’s Golan Heights which have been controlled by Israeli occupying forces since they invaded the strategic area in 1967. His visit & a subsequent NZ government statement seems to condone Israel’s occupation.

Below is a statement released yesterday by Leslie Bravery from the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, followed by other recent reports about Brownlee’s questionable visit and the Herald report of 1 Dec 2006.

NZ Government Press Release says Syrian Golan Heights are in Israel

The Government Press Release on 3 May 2016 states: “Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee will today arrive in Stuttgart, Germany, following his first visit to NZ Defence Force (NZDF) troops at South Camp in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights in Israel.”

Although the international community views the Golan Heights as belligerently-Occupied territory, the New Zealand Government appears to take sides with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated at a Cabinet meeting in April that “after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to finally recognise that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.” Syria is awaiting return of its territory, which continues to be monitored by UN peacekeeping forces.

The Press Release reads: “New Zealand is committed to international peacekeeping and peace monitoring efforts . . .” It is time our Government lived up to its claim. There is still time for our voice to be heard at the Security Council in defence of all those victims of Israel’s territorial ambitions, particularly the Palestinian people, who look to us to bring Israel to account. Continued silence will only contribute to Middle East instability and the further erosion of respect for international law.

Brownlee’s cover blown by Facebook post

1ZB 3 May 2016

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee’s supposedly top-secret visit to Israel was blown after Israel’s Defense Minister posted about a meeting with Mr Brownlee on his Facebook page.

Mr Brownlee is on an unannounced visit to Israel after his visit to Taji Military Camp in Iraq last week. It was supposed to be kept under wraps for what his office said were security reasons.

However, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon posted a photo and wrote about their meeting on Facebook, saying despite the distance between the two countries they had a lot in common. He said Mr Brownlee had also asked about a picture on his wall of the Israeli Air Force flying over Auschwitz.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brownlee said the trip was kept secret for “security reasons” and declined to comment on the details of that trip until it ended tomorrow.

“Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee is currently wrapping up his first visit to Egypt and Israel, where he carried out bilateral meetings with his Ministerial Defence counterparts.”

It is not the first time a ‘secret’ trip has been scuppered by foreign politicians – Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi put photos of himself and Prime Minister John Key on his Facebook page while Mr Key was still in Iraq visiting troops last year. That mishap was partly because delays in Mr Key’s travel meant he was in Iraq longer than expected.

The reasons for the Defence Force’s insistence on secrecy for Mr Brownlee’s Israel trip are less clear. 

Similar secrecy has not applied to visits to Israel by Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who visited in 2015 as part of his efforts to get a Security Council resolution on the Middle East peace process, and did media interviews while in Israel.

Israel has been critical of New Zealand for trying to spearhead that process and it was put on ice until Mr McCully recently revived it. It is understood Mr Brownlee’s visit was not related to that effort.

Mr Brownlee’s visit came after Mr McCully repeated his criticism of Israel for land occupations in the occupied Palestinian territories, which he said threatened the viability of the two-state solution.

Brownlee visits Kiwi troops in Egypt, Israel

By Newshub digital staff, 3 May 2016

Gerry Brownlee on his most recent visit to Iraq (NZ Defence Force)

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has visited Kiwi troops in Egypt for the first time en route to a counter-Islamic State meeting in Germany.

Mr Brownlee also toured Golan Heights in Israel on his way to Stuttgart. 

There are 27 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) soldiers based at South Camp on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the country’s longest-running peacekeeping deployment. The NZDF has had a presence there since 1982.

“Visiting the Sinai provided a great opportunity to talk with Multinational Force and Observers leadership and our 27-strong Kiwi contingent, who form part of the deployment that for the past 34 years has maintained peace between Israel and Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula,” Mr Brownlee says.

He says the troops are doing an excellent job in their roles as drivers, trainers and key operational planning personnel.

Mr Brownlee also met with Egyptian Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi.

In Israel, Mr Brownlee met with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said New Zealand’s contribution was appreciated.

He also met former New Zealand Army Chief Major General David Gawn, who is now head of mission and chief of staff to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in Golan Heights. There Mr Brownlee received a briefing on the region’s security situation.

There are eight NZDF personnel in the UNTSO based in Israel, Jerusalem and southern Lebanon.

Mr Brownlee’s visit follows a secret trip with Labour leader Andrew Little and Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee chair Mark Mitchell to visit Kiwi troops based in Camp Taji in Iraq, tasked with training the country’s army.

The Defence Minister will return to New Zealand following the Stuttgart meeting.

Newshub.

Government overrules war-crimes arrest order

By David Eames, Ruth Berry

NZ Herald Friday Dec 1, 2006

Attorney-General Michael Cullen has over-ruled a District Court judge’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against a visiting former Israeli general the judge believed was answerable for Middle East war crimes.

Auckland District Court Judge Avinash Deobhakta on Monday issued warrants ordering the arrest of Moshe Ya’alon, a former Israeli Defence Force chief of staff and head of intelligence.

The warrants were in response to information laid with the court under New Zealand’s obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

Papers lodged with the court, and obtained by the Herald, alleged General Ya’alon played a central role in the 2002 assassination of suspected Hamas commander Salah Shehadeb in Gaza City.

The assassination, in the form of a bomb strike on Mr Shehadeb’s home, also killed seven members of the neighbouring Mattar family and 15 others.

The court papers said General Ya’alon later admitted to his part in the planning of the assassination and was, therefore, a party to the bombing.

Judge Deobhakta noted the bombing had drawn international condemnation and ordered the warrants be issued.

The application, in the name of an Auckland company director, Janfrie Wakim, established a prima facie case against General Ya’alon, he said.

“I am satisfied [the papers] disclosed ‘good and sufficient reasons’ to believe that he was, together with others, responsible for the bombing.”

But the judge’s warrant was never enforced and on Wednesday Dr Cullen ordered a stay of proceedings.

The minister said yesterday he issued the stay after advice from Crown Law that the evidence against General Ya’alon was not sufficient. But he sidestepped questions on whether the Government believed a war crimes case could be made against General Ya’alon.

In a written statement supplied to the Herald, he said: “The materials supplied to support the allegations could not be relied upon to show a prima facie case against the defendant.”

Asked if the Government had any concerns about General Ya’alon’s past conduct, he said: “The Crown has no evidence of any allegations that would be relevant in determining the legal issues.”

Judge Deobhakta determined when issuing the ruling that the while any prosecution required the leave of the Attorney General to proceed, his consent was not needed to issue a warrant.

Dr Cullen said to his knowledge no Government officials, MPs or ministers had met General Ya’alon and “there has been no contact at any level” between his office and Crown Law and the Israeli Government or its Canberra-based embassy.

The honorary consul for Israel, David Zwartz, said General Ya’alon was in New Zealand on a private fundraising visit organised by the Jewish National Fund.

He was accompanied by the fund’s director in Australia, where he had toured before coming to New Zealand.

Mr Zwartz said he did not believe there was any substance to claims General Ya’alon was a war criminal.

A statement issued last night by the London-based law firm Hickman and Rose – which represents the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights – said Palestinians were “devastated” by Dr Cullen’s decision.

“An arrest and proper decisions on prosecution or extradition of Moshe Ya’alon should have taken place, based on the evidence presented to the court.”

Davey Salmon of Auckland law firm LeeSalmonLong, which took the application to arrest to court, said the quashing of the warrants could reflect poorly on New Zealand’s reputation internationally.

General Ya’alon is known to Palestinian groups as the Butcher of Qana.

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