On Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it has the jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Hamas, and other armed groups inside Palestine. The decision by the ICC is controversial as Palestine is not a recognised country, but this development has no impact on Palestinian status.
A ruling issued on the 5th February now allows the ICC to investigate war crimes committed in Gaza in 2014. Specifically, it will investigate the IDF for allegations of wilful killing, disproportionate attacks, and attacking persons or objects displaying emblems such as the Red Cross, as recognised by the Geneva Conventions. The ICC will also investigate war crimes by Hamas and other armed groups, including attacks on civilians, the use of human shields, depriving persons of a right to fair trial, torture, and inhuman treatment.
The ICC will also look into the establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The West Bank, along with other Palestinian territory, was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The settlements that were established are believed to constitute a war crime, and have thus been deemed illegal by various UN resolutions over the years. The occupation itself is also considered illegal. America is one of the few countries to recognise the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation, with former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declaring the settlements’ legality in November 2019.
The investigation could also include crimes allegedly committed by the IDF against civilian demonstrators at the Gaza strip in 2018. Protests were held along the border fence against the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the IDF’s response reportedly ‘resulted in the killing of over 200 individuals, including over 40 children, and the wounding of thousands of others.’ The embassy move was instigated by the Trump administration, and will be maintained under the current Biden administration. The night before the ICC’s announcement of its jurisdiction, the US Senate voted 97-3 to maintain the embassy in Jerusalem; Democrat Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tom Carper were the only Senators who opposed.
Responding to the ICC’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would ‘protect our citizens and soldiers in every way from legal persecution‘, the ICC only being able to prosecute individuals. The Israeli Foreign Ministry also declared the ICC as ‘a political tool of anti-Israel propaganda’, without the jurisdiction to investigate crimes in Palestine, and that the ruling ‘rewards Palestinian terrorism’. This is untrue given that crimes committed by Palestinians will also be investigated.
The US has announced its support for Israel. A State Department press release argued that, since Palestine is not a sovereign state, it cannot be allowed membership of international organisations such as the ICC.
The state of affairs between Israel and Palestine, is unlikely to change as a result of this. Israel’s relationship with the rest of the world is also unlikely to change either as most nations, with the exception of the US, have long opposed their conduct. Furthermore, while Joe Biden spoke to Benjamin Netanjahu for the first time on Wednesday since taking office, an apparent snub, nothing is going to change. The State Department’s press release shows the administration’s committment to the status quo, and the US Senate is near unanimous in its support.