ICC’s Israeli War Crimes Probe: Chances, Challenges
Story Code : 846504
Fatou Bensouda said that there are logical reasons to believe that war crimes have been committed by the Israeli military in Gaza Strip, Eastern Al-Quds (Jerusalem), and West Bank.
The ICC chief mentioned in three categories the war crimes that are expected to be subject to the upcoming probe.
The first category is the 2014 Israeli Defense Forces’ airstrikes on Gaza that according to the internationally verified figures killed 2,251 civilians, majorly children and Women.
The second category is related to the so-called crimes by Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian groups that allegedly used the civilians as human shields in the same war.
The third case of probe is the killing of Palestinian protestors by the Israeli forces on the Gaza border. Palestinians started their “Great March of Return” campaign of protests since March 2018 to call the international awareness about the Israel's withholding of their right to return home. The Israeli forces killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
Reactions: From Israeli fear to Palestinian optimism
Upon the announcement by the ICC chief prosecutor, a string of reactions were made to the probe. The Palestinian officials welcomed the move and hoped that justice that for long years has been withheld from them will be served.
Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator and a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), called the arrangement a “positive and heartening” step. He reacted to the “hysterical Israeli reaction” to the probe saying that launching the probe “gives a message of hope to our people and the victims of these crimes telling them that reaching justice is possible.”
Henan Ashrawi, another PLO official, stated that the time has come for the Israeli regime to stand responsible for the war crimes it committed.
The PLO in 2014 sued Tel Aviv for war crimes in the ICC after an initiative by John Kerry, the then US Secretary of State, to settle the case collapsed. The Palestinians filed two complaints against the Israeli regime: One about the Israeli war on besieged Gaza and other against the Israeli settlement projects in Eastern Al-Quds and West Bank.
The Palestinians in 2009 had placed a request to the ICC to investigate the Israeli war crimes in the war Tel Aviv waged against Gaza. The court rejected their bid, arguing that they lacked a clear status of the UN membership. However, a 2012 vote at the UN upgraded the Palestinian status to observer member, paving the way for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to sue the Israeli regime for war crimes. Signing the Treaty of Rome that is required to be an ICC member gave the Palestinians further leverage to complain against Tel Aviv in the international courts.
Just unlike the Palestinian optimism, the Israelis reacted negatively to the probe announcement.
The step was immediately condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who described it as a “black day for truth and justice.” Furthermore, a couple of hours after the statement, the Israeli chief prosecutor rejected the ICC’s jurisdiction to investigate the Israeli war crimes, arguing that only independent states can give the ICC the jurisdiction to look into such cases. That is while the Palestinian Authority lacks the statehood trappings under the international laws. Rejecting the probe Israeli officials said that they have already agreed with Palestinians to settle the disputes through bilateral dialogue.
The ICC was founded in 2002. Only if one member is a signatory of the Treaty of Rome, it can look into its cases. Tel Aviv is not a signatory and so the ICC jurisdiction to look into the Israeli crimes is expected to spark a debate. Tel Aviv is afraid that a probe will conclude into a ruling of arrest of the Israeli leaders.
Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Amnesty International, said the ICC decision is a historic step towards justice after tens of years of the Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. The statement, he said, was an important step to break the immunity of criminals who committed war crimes against humanity.
The US has reacted negatively to the statement. Washington already threatened to cut off the ICC funding. Now it also intensified its threats. Media reports suggested that Trump administration could sanction the ICC.
Realities never seen
Although the probe by the ICC is a positive move and a step forward after decades of ignoring the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian civilians, a set of realities are not seen in the statement or even the statement reverses the truth when it comes to the Palestinian side.
First, the statement deems Tel Aviv and the Palestinians as two equal sides of conflict. This is while the Israeli regime is an occupying force usurping Palestinian lands. Not only did it commit crimes but also it committed ethnic cleansing.
Second, the statement gives same level to the Israeli killing of the peaceful Palestinian protestors in the great march of return and the Palestinian actions like throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers or what is called the efforts to penetrate the Israeli borders. Palestinian protestors also fly incendiary balloons into the Israeli regime. But apparently this does not amount to a war crime. Rather, it is self-defense and is fully legitimate under the international laws.
Third, the statement draws parallels between the Israeli crimes, prisoner tortures, massive banishing of civilians, and organized apartheid over the 60 years of the Israeli regime life and the mistreatment of the civilians at the Palestinian Authority-run prisons. The prosecutor gives these as equal actions providing evidence to the probe.
Additionally, the language of the statement never expresses the Israeli crimes.
In 2016, Israeli fighter jets carried out over 6,000 airstrikes on Gaza, a densely-populated enclave. The strikes took lives of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians who had no way to flee the attack scenes. This scale of criminality cannot equaled to killing of 67 Israeli soldiers or 6 civilians by the Palestinian attacks.
Moreover, the report disregards demolition of 18,000 Palestinian homes by Israeli strikes that were launched to intentionally destroy Gaza infrastructure. Civilians were the main target of May 2019 bombings of the Israeli warplanes. Among the 30 Palestinian victims was a family with all its 9 members. From 5 children, 2 were infants, reports said. These are horrible crimes never mentioned in the statement.
Building a security wall, setting up checkpoints around West Bank and Al-Quds, blockading over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and cutting humanitarian aids to the region, imposing a controlling regime on the Palestinian civilians through civil registration system, separating family members, and limiting freedom of movement and exports and imports across the occupied territories using a discriminatory recognition system are just part of racist anti-Palestinian policies ignored by the ICC report.