ICC opens door to prosecuting Israel for war crimes in Palestine

February 9, 2021

In a landmark decision, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) say the body has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestine, opening the door to possible criminal charges against Israel.

The ruling comes two years after the ICC’s chief prosecutor found that, “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labelled the ICC decision “pure anti-Semitism” and rejected its claim of jurisdiction, as did the United States.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and has argued the court has no jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories because Palestine is not an independent state. But the ICC judges rejected that argument.

Human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, told Democracy Now! on February 8: Israel has been always been treated above the law. There is no accountability when it comes to Israel.

“Today, [the US] cannot do anything to protect Israel. And as a result, Israel has to be treated as a war criminal.”

The ICC is expected to examine Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, in which 2100 Palestinians died.

Israel, for the first time ever in history, will be in the most important court on Earth, being charged of war crimes, crimes against humanity and persecution for Palestinian civilians, said Sourani.

“And it will be held accountable, hopefully, at least in five cases: one, the blockade on the Gaza Strip; the second on the settlement policies; three, on the offensive on the Gaza Strip 2014; [fourthly] the pillage; and [fifthly] the Great March of Return.”

US President Joe Biden’s administration said it had “serious concerns” with the ICC’s ruling. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on February 5: “As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute in 2015, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state, or participate as a state in international organisations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC.”

In June last year, then-president Donald Trump signed an executive order to block the ICC from investigating war crimes committed by US military personnel and to freeze any US-based assets of any person engaged in ICC investigations against the US or its allies.

In September, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda on a “specially designated nationals” list alongside terrorists and narcotics traffickers, preventing her from entering the US.

Sourani told DN! that if the Biden administration does not cancel Trump’s executive order, “they will commit a great and a grave mistake”.

Katherine Gallagher, a legal representative for Palestinian victims in front of the ICC told DN!: “The Palestinians I represent have been denied their rights to life, to be free from torture, to family unity, to access healthcare, to freedom of movement, to rights to livelihood. There are just an array of violations that have been going on for years.

“I was disappointed ... when the US State Department spokesperson under the Biden-Harris administration came out against this historic ruling.

“They’ve put tremendous political pressure on the court, on other member states of the court, and we’ve seen ... Israel saying that it’s going to turn to allies in the European Union and others to give some kind of political protection.

“This is an independent court, and it should be able to operate independently,” said Gallagher, who called on the Biden administration to lift the executive order.

“I would like it if it supported the investigation. It doesn’t need to do that. At minimum, it needs to stop obstructing justice.”

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