International Criminal Court Begins Investigation of Israeli Crimes Against the Palestinian People

The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague announced on March 3 that the court will commence an investigation into the "Situation in Palestine." The ICC investigation was triggered by requests by the Palestinians, who had become a "state party" to the ICC in 2015.

Upon that request in 2015, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda began a preliminary examination into "the situation in Palestine." After a thorough investigation she concluded in December 2019 that she was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence that war crimes had been committed in four areas of investigation, namely: 1) Israel's war on Gaza in 2014; 2) Israel's illegal "settlements" in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; 3) Israel's killing of protesters in Gaza in 2018-2019; and 4) the indiscriminate shooting of rockets by Palestinians.

In her announcement on March 3, Ms. Bensouda stated: "The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my Office that lasted close to five years. During that period, and in accordance with our normal practice, the Office engaged with a wide array of stakeholders, including in regular and productive meetings with representatives of the Governments of Palestine and Israel, respectively." She emphasized that the investigation would be conducted "independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour" and that her office "will take the same principled, non-partisan approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized." She pointed out: "In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes -- both Palestinian and Israel -- arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides."

The Chief Prosecutor also noted that meticulous care was taken to ensure the scope of the investigation. To that end, in order "to obtain clarity on it at the outset, so as to chart the course of any future investigation on a sound and judicially tested foundation," she asked Pre-Trial Chamber 1 of the ICC for a ruling on the matter. She pointed out that on February 5, "the Chamber decided, by a majority, that the Court may exercise its criminal jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, and that the territorial scope of this jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," Palestinian territory that Israel has occupied since 1967.

The ICC decision is historic. It is welcomed by the Palestinian people and all justice- and peace-loving people in Canada and around the world who have stood together for more than 70 years in defence of the rights of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry stated: "This long-awaited step serves Palestine's vigorous effort to achieve justice and accountability as indispensable bases for peace." It called for concluding the investigation swiftly in light of the ongoing crimes of the occupation's leaders against the Palestinian people which are "lasting, systematic and far-reaching."

The Zionist state of Israel has condemned the ICC decision. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: "The decision of the international court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It's undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy." Israel has since undertaken an international campaign to attack the ICC decision under the pretext that the ICC has " No Standing. No Jurisdiction. No Case."

The U.S. takes the same position. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated: "The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision. The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court's jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore, are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC."

Canada's stand on this important matter is also thoroughly despicable. After the February 5 decision of the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber 1 that the Chief Prosecutor can proceed with the investigation, Canada's Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said: "Canada's longstanding position remains that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize its accession to international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Canada has communicated this position to the Court on various occasions." A week later on February 14, with prompting from Netanyahu, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote to the ICC to express Canada's opposition to the decision.

Canada's unprincipled opposition to the just and legal decision of the ICC should be opposed by all peace- and justice-loving people. The ICC is a court of the United Nations with a mandate to prosecute individuals accused of perpetrating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes on the territory of states party to the Rome Statute, its founding treaty. Israel, like its sponsor the U.S. is not a member of the ICC but the Palestinian Authority is. The Palestinian Authority first sought to become a "state party" to the ICC in 2009 but the ICC concluded after some deliberation that Palestine's status as an observer entity in the UN did not meet the legal requirements to join the court. It was only in November 2012, after the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/19 by an overwhelming majority to "accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations" that Palestine qualified to join the Rome Statute. The resolution was passed with 138 in favour, nine opposed (including Canada) and 41 abstentions.

(With files from International Criminal Court, UN, The Guardian, Global Affairs Canada, U.S. State Department.)

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 4 - April 4, 2021

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