Israeli officials working in overdrive to thwart ICC probe into possible war crimes

In a video released over the weekend, Netanyahu called the Israeli crimes in questions “fake war crimes,” and accused the court of specifically targeting Israel. Netanyahu promised Israelis that as their prime minister he will “fight this perversion of justice with all our might,” while shaking his fist at the camera.


The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision on Friday confirming its jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has made waves in Israel, Palestine, and abroad in recent days, with Israeli leaders working tirelessly to discredit the court and reject the decision.

Friday’s announcement came as a result of a January 2020 request by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor to confirm the scope of the court’s mandate in Palestine, and confirmed the court’s territorial jurisdiction, “to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

The court has been conducting preliminary investigations into potential war crimes committed by Israel in the oPt since 2014, and in December 2019, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded that there was a basis to investigate Israel, and Palestinian authorities, for criminal actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

At the time, Bensouda said “there is a reason to believe that war crimes were committed,” highlighting Israel’s 2014 offensive in Gaza, settlement construction in the West Bank, and the gunning down of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border during the Great March of Return protests of 2018.

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The court’s jurisdiction will also encompass potential crimes committed by armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.

The court emphasized that Friday’s decision, while paving the way for a formal investigation into potential war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, was not a decision on Palestinian borders and statehood.

Palestinian response
Despite a full criminal investigation potentially having implications for Palestinian officials as well, Palestinian leadership in both the West Bank and Gaza welcomed Friday’s announcement.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh commended the resolution “as a victory for justice, humanity and freedom,” and “a message to the perpetrators of crimes, that their crimes will not be subject to a statute of limitations, and that they will not go unpunished.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki expressed the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) willingness to cooperate with the court — something their Israeli counterparts have vowed not to do — and praised the decision for opening the door “to the pursuit of criminal accountability for the most egregious crimes…which have been and continue to be committed against the Palestinian people.”

The Hamas movement, which could be directly implicated for potential crimes committed against Israeli citizens, praised the decision as “an important step” towards achieving “justice for the victims of the Zionist [Israeli] occupation”.

“It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice,” Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.

HRW added that both Israeli and Palestinian officials’ failure to investigate and prosecute alleged serious crimes among their own forces only serve to reinforce the important role that the ICC could play in holding the perpetrators of such crimes accountable.

Israeli response
While it could be years before any Israeli leaders or military and security officials (both past and present) are charged and tried for their crimes before the court, Israeli officials have come out in full defiance of the court’s decision.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hearkened back to his previous criticisms of the court and it’s pursuance of investigations into Israeli war crimes, condemning Friday’s decision as “pure anti-semitism.”

In a video released over the weekend, Netanyahu called the Israeli crimes in questions “fake war crimes,” and accused the court of specifically targeting Israel. Netanyahu promised Israelis that as their prime minister he will “fight this perversion of justice with all our might,” while shaking his fist at the camera.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the decision “distorts international law and turns this institution into a political tool of anti-Israel propaganda.”

On Sunday, Israel’s security cabinet doubled down on Netanyahu’s criticisms, describing the “outrageous” ruling as one that “exposes the court as a political body, standing in one line with international organizations driven by antisemitic principles.”

The cabinet argued that the ICC has “no authority” to declare its territorial jurisdiction in the oPt, due to the fact that Israel is not a member state and that Palestine is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state, Haaretz reported.

Despite refusing to recognize the court’s authority, Israeli officials are seemingly still rather disturbed by Friday’s decision, with Haaretz reporting on Sunday that “hundreds of senior Israeli security officials, past and present, are expected to be called in for briefings, fearing they may be arrested abroad.”

The report added that some individuals whose names are on a confidential list of officials potentially wanted for war crimes by the court, could potentially be asked by security officials to refrain from traveling abroad to avoid arrest or trial.

Meanwhile, Israel is reportedly working hard to stave off future investigations by the ICC by working with its allies that are state parties to the Rome Statute to pressure the court not to pursue criminal investigations against Israeli officials.

According to Haaretz, some ICC member states have already agreed to warn Israel in advance of “any intent to arrest Israelis on their arrival in those countries or if a request for an arrest warrant is issued against them.”

Israel’s hopes at thwarting an ICC investigation seemed to get a boost after the US objected to the court’s decision, with U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price saying “We will continue to uphold President Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

The Biden administration’s response to the ICC’s decision, coupled with the fact that it has yet to repeal Trump-era sanctions on the court, seems to have provided some temporary relief for Israel.

“The ICC has a critical role to play as a court of last resort in situations like Palestine where recourse to domestic justice has been foreclosed,” Jarrah of Human Rights Watch said. “The court’s member countries should stand ready to fiercely protect the ICC’s independence in the face of ongoing pressure and hostility to an investigation of Israeli and Palestinian conduct.”


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