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The Hague Ruling on Israel Is Cause for Hope

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli forces during a demonstration against Israeli settlements on May 15, 2020 in al-Sawiya village, south of Nablus.
A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli forces during a demonstration against Israeli settlements on May 15, 2020 in al-Sawiya village, south of Nablus.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Every decent Israeli should be happy to hear the good news from The Hague Friday: The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Finally, after 53 years.

It is true that the path to prosecuting the perpetrators is still long, and perhaps impossible, but a new idiom – one that will be impossible to ignore – is coming to Israel’s boastful, bullying conversation, which thumbs its nose at international law.

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Quite a few Israelis in the military and the political establishments will begin to sweat in the months to come. Seasoned lawyers will be hired to defend them. Some of them will be afraid to travel abroad for fear of arrest. That is good news. Perhaps that way they’ll begin to think differently about their actions. Perhaps the fear of prosecution will constrain them in the future. Perhaps in the next election season a “centrist” candidate like Benny Gantz will not stand up and boast about the number of graves in Lebanon for which he is responsible. Perhaps another “centrist” candidate, Moshe Ya’alon, who murdered Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) in his bed and who, as defense minister, conducted Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, will begin to feel slightly ashamed of his actions.

The worry expressed after the ruling – that the anticipated investigation could have a chilling effect on the Israel Defense Forces that would deter officers from involvement with West Bank settlements and perhaps move them to think twice before the next airstrike in Gaza – is not fear, but the beginning of hope.

The first test is the response of the political establishment and the media in Israel to the ruling. So far they have proved that – as always when support for the occupation is concerned – there is no difference between left and right, and no such thing as fair and courageous media: Israel has come together almost as one to play the victim and to attack, the things it loves to do above all else. Instead of submitting to the court, thanking it for seeking the truth – after all, Israel has nothing to hide – and announcing that it will cooperate with the investigation, a torrent of shrieks, laments and threats erupted.

Never mind the right, which certainly doesn’t understand the issue. But the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, called the ruling “shameful” and said it would “encourage Palestinian resistance.” Excuse me? Palestinian resistance? Lapid, the defender of the legal system, comes out against the court? “I’m proud of the soldiers and officers of the IDF who protect us,” Lapid recited, like a Bar Mitzvah boy. Who needs Gideon Sa’ar when we have someone like Lapid.

Yair Golan, from the left wing of Meretz, obviates the need for the right wing. “Israel committed no war crime in the territories,” pronounced the general, who knows a thing or two about war crimes, such as the so-called neighbor protocol, where soldiers take Palestinians along with them on searches, as human shields – Golan’s legacy in the IDF. With a left wing like this, we don’t need Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations, screaming “antisemitism” in Washington.

The Israeli media as well, a decisive majority of which urged the military to attack more and more during Operation Protective Edge, also doesn’t understand what the world suddenly wants from pure, innocent Israel, which is only protecting itself from annihilation.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte withdrew his country from the ICC over the court’s investigation of his bloody war on drug dealers. Israel has never joined the court, lest it be investigated. True, this court is not perfect. It comes down hard on the weak: Only war criminals from Africa have so far been prosecuted. But we can’t do without it. In light of a country like Israel, which never seriously investigated suspicions of war crimes by its army and its government, there is no choice but to look hopefully toward The Hague.

At least 1,000 innocent civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge; more than 200 unarmed protesters have been killed at the Gaza border fence; every settlement is a war crime. These clear truths have never penetrated the mendacious and brainwashed Israeli discourse. Perhaps now a prosecutor from Gambia, a judge from Benin and a judge from France will do what our esteemed and exalted Supreme Court has never dared to do, to its shame.

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