For Palestinians, establishing accountability and culpability with regard to Israeli war crimes is a just endeavor, although justice has long been denied. The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, however, exposed how Israel’s globally-disseminated security narrative is nothing other than a veneer for ongoing war crimes.
“War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
In her December 2019 communication regarding an investigation into the complaints submitted by Palestine, Bensouda explicitly stated, “I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.” Bensouda added, “There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”
The ICC is investigating Israel’s war crimes in relation to settlement expansion, the 2014 aggression against Gaza known as Operation Protective Edge, and the targeting of Palestinian civilians during the Great Return March demonstrations which started in 2018.
Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute – the 1998 treaty that established the ICC and the basis of international crimes. Hence the Chief Prosecutor has called for establishing confirmation that the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, fall under ICC jurisdiction.
Upon this basis, the Israeli Attorney General attempted to stall the forthcoming investigation process by submitting a legal opinion stating that “Israel has valid legal claims over the same territory in relation to which the Palestinians are seeking to submit to the court’s jurisdiction.”
Two main facts are to be gleaned from Bensouda’s statement. Firstly, the statement is a clear admission by an international body that Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinian people are no longer subject to hypothesis.
It is important to remember that the bureaucratic delays in the international justice system have aided Israel in perpetrating additional war crimes.
Secondly, while an ICC investigation is undoubtedly a necessary next step in the process, it is important to remember that the bureaucratic delays in the international justice system have aided Israel in perpetrating additional war crimes.
The international community’s focus on “alleged war crimes” in the absence of legal opinion embellished reports detailing Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinian civilians. In its report on the 2014 Israeli aggression against Gaza, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) speaks of “potential violations of international humanitarian law by these [Israeli] officials which may amount to war crimes.”
For as long as the UN maintained the possibility of Israel having committed war crimes, Israel’s security narrative reigned supreme. Operation Protective Edge was bolstered by a juxtaposition of verbal condemnations regarding Israeli violence and an almost unanimous support for Israel’s purported right to defend itself.
This support for Israel at an international level was amplified in its latest aggression against Gaza in May 2019, for which UN and EU officials specifically blamed Palestinian factions, even going as far as to describe Israel’s aerial bombardment of the enclave as “retaliation.”
Israel is aware of the consequences which the possible ICC investigation will bring to its security narrative. So far, Israeli officials have enjoyed absolute impunity. The ICC cannot prosecute states, but it can indict individuals involved in committing war crimes, which opens up the possibility of prosecuting Israeli politicians and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) personnel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that all discussions pertaining to Israel’s approach to the ICC move remain classified information.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett vowed a continuation of the settler-colonial state’s violence against Palestinians.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett vowed a continuation of the settler-colonial state’s violence against Palestinians. The security narrative played out once again. “We will fight terrorism as if there is no Hague and we will fight The Hague as if there is no terrorism,” he declared during an Israeli Air Force event in which he urged new cadets to “protect us and we will protect you.”
Diplomatically and politically, governments have started to raise their objections to the ICC’s intent to investigate Israel for war crimes. The U.S. was the first to issue its opposition to the move, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that Palestinians’ absence of sovereignty should impede the PA from obtaining “full membership or [to] participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC.”
Australia issued a similar statement affirming it does not recognize the State of Palestine and refuted the war crimes existence, partly reading, “We consider that the question of territory and borders can be resolved only through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, Germany cautioned against the developments, adding that the government “naturally resists the fact that cases of any kind are used to politicize before the court.”
A common theme brought up by the U.S., Germany, and Australia was the elimination of war crimes in favor of rhetoric that conformed to the usual parameters of peace and negotiations. The ICC is not supposed to act as an extension for international diplomacy. Its role is to establish and execute justice for war crimes which occur as a result of political violence.
Contrary to what Netanyahu alleged, the ICC’s decision is not “diplomatic terrorism,” which usually happens at the UN through its weak condemnations of Israel and refusal to support the Palestinians’ legitimate right to armed struggle against colonialism.
While the U.S. is perceived as isolated for its unilateral decisions regarding Israel, the international community has also relied upon the U.S. narrative to increase its support for Israel’s security narrative.
Within the international community, Israel has strong backing. It is interesting to note that while the U.S. is perceived as isolated for its unilateral decisions regarding Israel, including Jerusalem, the embassy relocation, the withholding of funds from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the “Deal of the Century,” the international community has also relied upon the U.S. narrative to increase its support for Israel’s security narrative.
Hence the Israeli government’s reliance upon diplomacy, as well as its allies’ revisiting negotiations as the path forward for peace. The ICC, however, is concerned with the war crimes resulting as part of the negotiations that allowed Israel the opportunity to dispossess Palestinians for decades through violence and settlement expansion.
Now that the ICC’s statement has dropped the word “alleged” from its war crimes assertion, how will the international community define Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people?
This is an opportunity to expose Israel’s colonial violence, yet it is likely that governments will continue to promote the two-state paradigm and insist upon negotiations, even as Palestinians are now focused upon their possibilities at The Hague.
If the two-state compromise trend persists, the international community may well consider itself complicit in supporting the perpetration of war crimes against the Palestinian people.