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Israel’s Itamar Ben-Gvir pushes immunity bill for soldiers against trial

Israeli defence officials warn proposal would make soldiers susceptible to prosecution by the International Criminal Court
Israel's far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir is the head of Otzma Yehudit party (AFP)

Israel's far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir is working to push legislation that would grant Israeli soldiers and police officers legal immunity against trials and investigations for acts carried out during their service.

Ben-Gvir is set to be in charge of the public security ministry in the upcoming government, currently being formed by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Israeli defence officials have warned that Ben-Gvir's legal proposal would make Israeli soldiers susceptible to prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. 

The proposed bill has been part of the coalition talks between Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit party and Netanyahu's Likud party.

Chanamel Dorfman, of Otzma Yehudit's coalition negotiations team, told Israeli media that "we are insisting on a law giving immunity to soldiers and police and on changes to open-fire rules".

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Immunity to charges

"Without a change in the open-fire regulations and an immunity law for soldiers and police, there's nothing we want from the government. We won't join the government without them," Dorfman added.

Haaretz reported that Israeli defence officials expressed concern in private conversations about the immunity law.

They argued that the Israeli military and civilian justice system effectively prevented Israeli soldiers from being tried before the International Criminal Court for offences and war crimes, but its independence could be harmed with the advance of the immunity bill.

Ben-Gvir, a far-right lawyer whose Jewish Power party last week signed its first coalition deal with the Likud, has surged into the mainstream in recent months despite his extreme views. 

Among other controversial remarks are his frequent categorisations of Arab colleagues as "terrorists". He has also called for the deportation of his political opponents.

In his youth, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.

In December, Ben-Gvir said an Israeli soldier had carried out a job "well done" in fatally shooting 22-year-old Ammar Mefleh, whose death was caught on video and shared widely on social media in the occupied West Bank town of Huwwara near Nablus.

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