ICC opens probe into war crimes in Israeli-held territories

Published March 4, 2021
The International Criminal Court opened a formal investigation on Wednesday into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories. — AFP/File
The International Criminal Court opened a formal investigation on Wednesday into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories. — AFP/File

THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court opened a formal investigation on Wednesday into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, in a move blasted by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as the “essence of anti-Semitism.” Palestinian authorities hailed the decision by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as an “urgent and necessary” probe into the situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip along with the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem since June 2014.

The move plunges the Hague-based tribunal — which has faced frequent criticism by Israel and its ally the United States — into the midst of one of the world’s most bitter conflicts and risks inflaming an already tense situation.

Bensouda said she had decided there were “admissible potential cases” on both sides, with the investigation focusing on the 2014 Gaza conflict, which left more than 2,000 people dead.

“In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides,” the prosecutor said.

Gambian-born Bensouda said the formal investigation followed a “painstaking” five-year preliminary probe, and vowed it would be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.” Israel has refused to sign up to the court, set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, but the Palestinians have been a state party to the ICC since 2015.

ICC judges paved the way for a war crimes investigation when they ruled a month ago that the court has jurisdiction over the situation due to the Palestinians’ membership.

The probe will focus on Operation Protective Edge, the military operation launched by Israel in the summer of 2014 with the stated aim of stopping rocket fire into the country by militants of Islamist movement Hamas.

Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the 2014 fighting, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

“The state of Israel is under attack this evening,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on Twitter about the ICC decision. “The international court based in The Hague reached a decision which is the essence of anti-Semitism.” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the country would “take every step necessary to protect its civilians and soldiers from legal persecution” and said the probe could impact the stalled peace process. The Palestinian Authority hailed Wednesday’s decision meanwhile.

“The crimes committed by the leaders of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people — which are ongoing, systematic and widespread — make this investigation necessary and urgent,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said in a statement. There was no immediate reaction from the United States.

The US State Department said in February it had “serious concerns” about the ICC ruling on jurisdiction, adding that Israel should not be bound by the court as it was not a member.

In 2019, Bensouda said in her initial application for the probe that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe crimes were committed by members of the Israeli Defence Forces, Israeli authorities, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups.

These include the Israeli military allegedly “intentionally launching disproportionate attacks” during the 2014 conflict and “wilful killing and wilfully causing serious injury”, she said.

Hamas and Palestinian armed groups were accused of “intentionally directing attacks against civilians” and “using protected persons as shields” during the Gaza conflict.

The ICC prosecutor also said there is scope to investigate the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators from 2018 onwards.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021

Opinion

Looking northeast

Looking northeast

By putting together and leading the $62 billion CPEC, China is playing a potentially transformational role in Pakistan’s economy.
The challenges ahead
Updated 23 Apr 2021

The challenges ahead

Pakistan must complete the fencing of its border with Afghanistan and insulate itself to the extent possible.
The big bang
23 Apr 2021

The big bang

A high population growth rate has a disastrous impact.
Fiscal management
23 Apr 2021

Fiscal management

When the economy expands, do not spend all the extra money.
Blaming the victim
Updated 22 Apr 2021

Blaming the victim

The psychological consequences of blaming the victim, or delegitimising their experiences, are far-reaching.

Editorial

TTP resurgence?
Updated 23 Apr 2021

TTP resurgence?

The govt and military must ensure that their focus and resources are focused on dismantling terror networks that still exist.
23 Apr 2021

Tehran visit

THE two key takeaways from Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s trip to Iran on Wednesday were the need for...
23 Apr 2021

Road to racial justice

THE death of George Floyd last May caused global shock and outrage, and led to mass protests in both the US and...
22 Apr 2021

Capping power debt

THE suggested revision in the Circular Debt Management Plan, which aims to cap the flow or addition of new debt to...
22 Apr 2021

Istanbul postponement

WHILE the postponement of the Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan, which were scheduled to be held later this week,...
22 Apr 2021

No mining precautions

YET another accident caused by a methane gas explosion has been reported from the dangerous coal mines of...