Israel rejects Hague court’s authority to investigate alleged war crimes

Israel’s biggest fear is that hundreds of soldiers may be issued with arrest warrants

An Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. Photograph: Hatem Moussa/File/AP Photo

An Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. Photograph: Hatem Moussa/File/AP Photo

 

Israel has decided not to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza.

Following consultations between prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Benny Gantz, foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi and senior military and legal officials, Israel responded by saying the court was acting without authority. It said that as a state “committed to the rule of law”, it was capable of investigating itself.

The Israeli letter denied the allegation that Israel had committed war crimes and said the Hague court did not have jurisdiction to begin an investigation into it. Israel’s position is that the court’s “unwarranted intervention” has no legal basis and is contrary to the goals that it was founded to achieve.

On March 3rd, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the court would investigate Israel and Hamas for possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 2014. Formal notices were sent out on March 9th, giving Israel and the Palestinian Authority until April 9th to apply for a deferral by proving they are carrying out their own investigations into the alleged offences.

The investigation is likely to focus on the Gaza war fought between Israel and Hamas in summer 2014; actions by the Israeli army during the weekly protests along the Gaza fence in 2018, addressing Palestinians’ claims that Israel fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians; and Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank.

Fear of arrests

Israel’s biggest fear is that hundreds of soldiers and officials may be issued with international arrest warrants.

Mr Netanyahu launched a scathing attack on the ICC. “A body set up to defend human rights became a body that, effectively, protects those who trample on human rights.”

Labour Party leader Merav Michaeli criticised the government’s response. “Netanyahu’s conduct is liable to exact a high price from Israeli officers and soldiers. Netanyahu is putting Israel at risk, Netanyahu has to go.”

Israel opted not to launch an independent investigation after senior military officials warned that such a move could set a precedent, in effect recognising ICC authority to investigate Israel and forcing it to file a progress report every six months.

The Palestinian leadership welcomed the ICC investigation, considering it a significant and rare diplomatic victory. The Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, welcomed the decision as a “step forward on the path of achieving justice”, while defending its own actions as “legitimate resistance”.

Washington criticised the ICC decision to open an investigation into the alleged war crimes after it was announced, claiming that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter since Israel was not a party to the ICC and that the Palestinians did not qualify as a sovereign state.