Israeli Attorney General 'Resolutely Rejects' ICC Prosecutor's Call to Probe Israel's War Crimes Against Palestinians

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Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, November 2019
Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, November 2019Credit: Moti Milrod

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Saturday that he "resolutely rejects" the statement by the International Criminal Court's prosecutor that there is a basis for launching an investigation against Israel for committing war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

"The State of Israel is a democratic, law-abiding country, which is committed to honoring international law and humanitarian values, and acts to promote them," he said in a statement to Israeli media.

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The decision is "unacceptable" and "it's unclear why she [prosecutor Fatou Bensouda] was in such a hurry to make a rash and unfounded decision like this," the attorney general added.

Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz attends a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel July 28, 2014.Credit: Nir Elias/ REUTERS

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that Israel has yet to decide whether it would cooperate with the process the ICC has launched ahead of a possible probe.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's statement was also criticized earlier Saturday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival Benny Gantz, the leader of the Kahol Lavan Party. Her decision "is a political decision, not a legal one," Gantz wrote in a tweet, adding that "the Israeli army is one of the most moral militaries in the world."

Gantz, who served as chief of the IDF during Israel's ground operation in Gaza in 2014 – one of the main four points in the investigation the ICC prosecutor seeks to launch – said that "the Israeli army and State of Israel do not commit war crimes." He added that "in the struggle over Israel's international legitimacy to defend itself, there is no coalition and opposition. We will all join the fight for justice and for our basic right to defend the State of Israel and its civilians." 

On Friday, Netanyahu also responded to the ICC prosecutor's statement, saying that it was "a black day for the truth and for justice." According to him, the ICC has no authority to pursue the matter. "It only has the authority to prosecute in lawsuits that are filed by sovereign states, but there was never a Palestinian state," Netanyahu said.

Benouda's office on Friday requested that the court look into whether it was under the ICC's jurisdiction to decide over the question of war crimes in the Palestinian territories. 

"In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip," Fatou Bensouda wrote in her statement.

However, Bensouda added, "Given the unique and highly contested legal and factual issues attached to this situation," she has requested the ICC to confirm "that the 'territory' over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza."

In her full opinion, Besouda wrote that "Based on the available information, there is reason to believe that war crimes were committed in the context of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza," referring to Operation Protective Edge, which was launched after regional tensions came to a head following the murder of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian youth, as well as ceaseless rocket fire from the Strip.

Bensouda wrote that available information shows that "the IDF intentionally launched disproportionate attacks in relation to at least three incidents which the ICC has focused on, as well as intentionally directing an attack against objects or persons using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions."

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