On Friday the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Pre-Trial Chamber ruled through a unanimous decision that it has jurisdiction in the Palestinian occupied territories (POT), meaning that the ICC’s prosecutor can pursue convicting Israel of warcrimes in the POT’s.
The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as of Friday’s ICC decision, now has the ability to hold Israel accountable for war crimes it commits in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This means that, if followed through, there could finally be legal repercussions for Israel’s copious war crimes, as described and documented by countless UN and NGO reports.
Fatou Bensouda officially announced on November 20, 2019, that she was opening an investigation into war crimes committed in Palestine, stating:
“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”.
To which Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded at the time by asking for “concrete actions” and “sanctions” to be applied “against the international court – its officials, its prosecutors, everyone.”
Following Netanyahu’s threats and the amount of pressure the Israeli’s were piling onto the ICC, many believed that the Court would fold, but to Israel’s dismay their efforts were in vain.
Upon Friday’s announcement the US State Department had said that they expressed “serious concern” at the ICC’s decision. This was followed by an all out attack by Netanyahu, who called it “pure anti-Semitism” and vowed to fight the decision with all his might.
For those privy to the language used by the Israeli ‘Apartheid Regime’, as it is described by Israel’s top human rights organisation B’Tselem, the claim of anti-Semitism is often thrown around as a defense of Israeli state actions. In order to fend off the outrageous attacks which are now, and will continue to, come the way of the ICC, it is imperative that we now stand behind the ICC in its decision and give it legitimacy in its pursuit of justice.
This moment is a unique one in the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict and provides an opportunity for Israel to finally be held to account for its crimes against the Palestinians.
A Reminder Of Why Israel Must Be Held To Account
The territories in which the ICC now has jurisdiction, in order to investigate war crimes, are the territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967, and hence, these are the areas we should now focus on.
The first example I want to focus on, in order to demonstrate why Israel must be charged for war crimes, is that of the mass slaughter of civilians in the Gaza Strip during the ‘Great Return March’.
The Great Return March was one of the largest non-violent demonstrations in history – when we look at its length and the percentage of the population that attended – and began on Palestinian ‘Land Day’, March 30, 2018.
During the course of the roughly one and a half years of protests, Israel murdered approximately 330 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and injured roughly 35,000. On the Israeli side, there were no casualties and no serious injuries beyond a few scratches to Israeli soldiers.
In 2019, the UNHRC released a Human Rights report in which they concluded the following most pertinent points:
-The commission found in the killings of 189 demonstrators between 30 March and 31 December 2018, 183 were killed with live ammunition, including 35 children, 3 health workers and 2 members of the Press. Only 29 of those killed were members of Palestinian armed groups.
-Only 4 Israeli snipers were lightly injured, none were killed by demonstrators.
-23,313 Palestinian demonstrators were injured during the 2018 demonstrations, 6106 with live ammunition, “contributing to the highest toll of injuries recorded in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2005.
-On the killing of child demonstrators, the commission found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally, knowing that they were children”.
-On the killing of health workers, “the commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers intentionally shot health workers, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such”.
-On the killings of journalists, “the commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such”.
-The commission found that both male and female protestors were shot in the groin. The female victims told the commission they are now “unlikely to be able to have children”.
-The policy of the Israeli Minister of Defense, was to deny passage to any person injured during demonstrations, causing unnecessary deaths and life changing injuries.
-According to the commission, except in two possible cases, “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful”.
-Israel used a “disproportionate use of force”.
-The “demonstrators were shot in violation of their right to life or of the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law”.
-The commission found “reasonable grounds to believe that the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces violated the rights” of thousands of demonstrators who were peaceful.
-The commission found “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israel violated “The Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
-“Violations of international law, such as those committed by Israeli security forces and set out in this report, give rise to State responsibility…”.
Israel has also, since 2005, launched 8 large-scale military operations against the Gaza Strip, besieging the territory officially in 2007 and unofficially in 2006 following the democratic election of the territory’s government. A 12-year-old in Gaza has experienced three large-scale wars on the territory, in which Israel killed thousands of innocent people who were not involved with any Palestinian armed groups. Such attacks on civilians, committed by Israel, were strikes on children playing football/soccer on the beach in broad daylight, for which nobody has been punished.
According to experts at the United Nations, Gaza is also officially considered ‘unlivable.’ Of its 2 million inhabitants, half are children and 70+% are refugees, living in a territory more densely populated than Tokyo. The water in Gaza is also 97% undrinkable, and according to Sara Roy, the top scholar on Gaza’s economy, Israel is essentially systematically poisoning a million children in Gaza. On top of that, hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza have no direct access to water pipelines or infrastructure. Gaza also endured up to 22 hour blackouts, during which essential infrastructure is often paralyzed, making life unbearable.
In the West Bank, Palestinians have been forced, due to the conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation forces and settlements, to live in what has been described as 153 Apartheid South Africa style bantustans. The construction of Israel’s West Bank separation wall, which usurped 10% of the West Bank’s territory, was deemed to be illegal by a unanimous decision in the ICJ (International Court of Justice).
More than 200 illegal Israeli settlements have been constructed on Palestinian land (in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) in which around 750,000 settlers live. Israeli settlers continually attack and kill Palestinians in some of the most brutal ways imaginable, they also routinely destroy Palestinian property. In the areas of the South Al-Khalil Hills, Ma’ale Adumim and the Jordan Valley, Israel actively seeks to illegally displace the native Palestinian inhabitants and routinely bulldozes entire villages, along with other areas as well.
On top of this, under the system of Apartheid set up for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, they are under constant threat of expulsion if they hold a foreign passport, as they are only allowed a “Jerusalem ID” card. Many of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem also reside behind the separation wall and are forced to routinely travel through checkpoints, where they are constantly killed, assaulted, harassed or humiliated, just to get to their place of work.
These are just some of the problems faced by Palestinians living under Israeli Apartheid, but enough to at least raise some eyebrows in the western hemisphere. By just scratching the surface, it is clear that Israel must be investigated for war crimes and brought to justice.
The reason why this is so important, is because the only way Israel is ever going to stop its crimes, or at least think twice before committing them, is if it is held accountable for those crimes. Even if successful, this investigation at the ICC may not put a complete stop to Israel’s criminal actions; but if Israel is too scared to commit certain acts due to the knowledge that it will be held to account for those actions, that would no doubt saves lives, and the ICC would have done the Palestinian people and the world a massive service. If it only means one less mother has to bury her son; one less father has to bury his daughter; one less child has to bury their parent; then this is a win.
It is time to call out Israel’s war crimes.