Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Taking Israel to court

A prospective ICC probe into Israel’s actions in Gaza has released strong emotions across the political divide, Ahmed Al-Sayed reports from Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Israel has long claimed that its brutal attacks on Gaza are the appropriate response to Palestinian “terrorism.” But when the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to conduct a probe into the conflict, a decision that could lead to indictments on both sides, the Palestinians were all for it and the Israelis dead against it.

Last Friday, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decided to open a “preliminary probe” into alleged war crimes that took place in Palestinian areas.

The decision, made in reaction to a request by the Palestinian Authority (PA), was greeted with satisfaction both in Ramallah and Gaza, but sent the government of Binyamin Netanyahu into near frenzy.

The ICC probe could lead to charges against Palestinians and Israeli officials in connection with the offensive on Gaza last summer.

The PA was angling for such an outcome when it signed the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC. Legal experts say the step gives the ICC judicial jurisprudence over war crimes in Palestinian areas. Among Palestinian factions and rights groups, the ICC move is seen as a belated effort to bring justice to the territory.

Essam Younes, director of the Mizan Human Rights Centre, said that during its years of occupation of Palestinian areas, Israel has committed “systematic war crimes and crimes against humanity” and tried to change “the geographical and demographical features” of the Palestinian territories in “a bid to erase its Islamic and Christian past.”

He was speaking at a workshop, held in Gaza on Sunday, to examine the possible consequences of the ICC action. Younes said that the PA decision to join the Rome Statute “came against a backdrop of a terrible reality.”

According to Younes, Israel has committed crimes that flout “the principles of justice and the norms of international law.”

The PA was able to join the Rome Statute and other international treaties thanks to a decision by the UN General Assembly in November 2012 to grant Palestine non-member state observer status in the UN. On 2 January 2015, the PA handed the UN documents showing that it had joined the Rome Statute, among other international treaties.

Said Younes, “Occupation forces waged three wars on Gaza in less than six years ... killing thousands of civilians, destroying their homes, erasing entire neighbourhood areas from the map, and displacing thousands of families.”

Shawan Jabarin, deputy director of the International Federation for Human Rights, reacted to Israeli charges that the Palestinians must also be tried for war crimes.

“Even if [the] resistance commits actions that can arguably fall under the rubric of war crimes, these actions are committed by men whom Israeli is constantly hunting down and trying to kill,” Jabarin told the Qods News Agency (QODSNA). “So even if the resistance has committed errors, proof of wrongdoing must be established.”

The Israeli narrative is that the conflict in Gaza is between two equal forces, Jabarin said. “But in reality, what happened was a massive military offensive that constitutes a war crime. Gaza is not a country and it has no army. There was no equality of force.”

Israel waged three wars on Gaza within six years. The first, in 2008, lasted 22 days and left 1,500 dead. The second, in 2012, lasted for eight days and left 160 dead. The third, in 2014, lasted for 51 days and left 2,100 dead.

The ICC probe may lead to a full investigation into war crimes committed in the course of the most recent war, a prospect that the Netanyahu government is determined to block. “Israel is simmering with anger about [the decision],” reported Israeli television.

Calling the ICC decision “hypocritical”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it was “absurd for the ICC to ignore international laws and agreements.” He added, “The Palestinians don’t have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel.”

Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, has accused Hamas in the past of committing war crimes and of using Gaza inhabitants as human shields. “We will fight this decision through all means,” Netanyahu said.

Washington, which is not a member of the ICC, sided with the Israeli position. A statement by the US State Department voiced disapproval of the ICC decision. “As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that Palestine is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC,” the statement said.

The Netanyahu government said it is considering filing lawsuits against PA President Abbas and other Palestinian officials in US courts as well as in other countries. Israel is also bringing financial pressure to bear on the PA.

Israel collects import and export duties on Palestinian merchandise totalling $120 million per month, equal to almost half the PA’s monthly budget of $240 million. This month, Israel blocked those funds, forcing the PA to use Arab donations to pay its employees.

Although Hamas has often been accused of committing war crimes, it hailed the ICC as a victory for its cause, promising to provide international investigators with damning evidence against Israel. A statement issued by Hamas described the decision as “a step on the road of capturing [Israeli] criminals and bringing them to justice.”

“This step will be a spark of hope for the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, adding that Hamas is “prepared to provide thousands of documents and reports confirming Israeli war crimes against Gaza and the Palestinians.”

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