Israel Preparing for International Court to Launch Probe Into War Crimes 'Within Days,' Officials Say

The International Criminal Court has been looking into whether it has the authority to investigate alleged war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 2015

Noa Landau
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The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands, January 16, 2019.
The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands, January 16, 2019. Credit: REUTERS / Piroschka van de Wouw
Noa Landau

Israeli officials are preparing for an International Criminal Court's decision on whether it can open an investigation into potential war crimes committed by Israel in the Palestinian Territories "within days."

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The decision, which they expect will be made public shortly, will come after a years-long process in The Hague to determine the extent of the Court's jurisdiction in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

This was sparked by a 2015 declaration by the Palestian government to give jurisdiction to the intergovernmental institution "over alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014."

In December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she had found a basis for an investigation against Israel and Hamas over suspicions that war crimes were committed in the Palestinian Territories in the period beginning in 2014. But she asked that the court issue a pre-trial ruling first on its jurisdiction in cases involving the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during the trial of Malian Islamist militant Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, The Hague, Netherlands, July 8, 2019.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during a trial at The Hague, July 8, 2019.Credit: Eva Plevier / Reuters

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump, in coordination with Israel, ordered that sanctions be imposed on officials involved in the International Criminal Court’s probe into suspicions that U.S. troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan. 

Following the announcement, Netanyahu congratulated the decision to impose sanctions on the "corrupt and biased International Criminal Court," calling it a "kangaroo court" and a "politicized court obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights."

Senior Trump administration officials have also said on several occasions that they would view a decision to investigate Israel as a “political” step that could prompt additional action by the United States. The announced move by the United States led to a response by dozens of countries, which this week announced their reaffirmation of support for the court.

In late May, the ICC asked the Palestininan Authority to clarify whether the Oslo Accords were still in effect, given Ramallah's decision to pull out of all agreements with Israel amid talks of annexation. Mahmoud Abbas later confirmed this was the case, but stressed that it shouldn't affect the legal process at the ICC.

Israel's position is that the Palestinian Authority does not satisfy to the court's requirement that only sovereign countries can confer criminal jurisdiction. Israel argues that the case presents a disputed political issue.

In an opinion issued on the 2014 war in Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge by the Israeli army, Bensouda wrote that “based on the available information, there is a reason to believe that war crimes were committed in the context of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza," and that available information shows that "the Israel Defense Forces intentionally launched disproportionate attacks in relation to at least three incidents on which the ICC has focused, as well as intentionally directing an attack against objects or persons using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions."

Bensouda also stated that  "there is a reasonable basis to believe that in the context of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, members of the Israeli authorities have committed war crimes in relation, inter alia, to the transfer of Israeli civilians into the West Bank since June 13, 2014."

Palestinian demonstrators clash with Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley, June 24, 2020.
Palestinian demonstrators clash with Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley, June 24, 2020.Credit: Majdi Mohammed/אי־פי

She added that, "despite the clear and enduring calls that Israel cease activities in the Palestinian Territories deemed contrary to international law, there is no indication that they will end. To the contrary, there are indications that they may not only continue, but that Israel may seek to annex these territories."

In her December statement, Bensouda noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to annex extensive portions of the West Bank if he is again elected prime minister.

Israeli officials believe that the timing of the court's decision on the question of jurisdiction is aimed at preceding any Israeli announcement on annexation of a large part of the West Bank. According to the coalition agreement between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, the annexation process could start as early as July 1.

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