The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken the first step to initiate an investigation concerning war crimes in Palestine1, after confirming that Palestine is a State party to the court. In oral hearings held in February 2020 countries allied to Israel such as Germany, Australia, Hungary or the Czech Republic tried to have Palestine not considered part of the ICC, but the judges ruled that “regardless of the status of Palestine under of general international law, its adherence to the Rome Statute followed the correct and ordinary procedure”2.
The decision stems from an initiative of the Gambian attorney general Fatou Bensouda3, who asked the chamber to specify “the territories in which the investigation can be carried out” given “the controversial legal and factual issues” of the case. The preliminary chamberruled by two votes to one that Palestine encompasses the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War which includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip4. In 2018 the Palestinian National Authority had formally requested the opening of the investigation, empowering Bensouda to begin investigations without authorization from the judges.
International reactions were swift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring on the investigation that “today the court has proven once again that it is a political body and not a judicial institution“5 ,or with Ned Price, spokesman State of the United States, expressing “serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise jurisdiction over Israeli personnel”6.
Palestine is confident that the ICC will investigate Israel’s actions in the Return Marches protests of 2018. Which left more than 273 Palestinians dead and more than 16,000 injured7. The ICC does not have its own police force and therefore cannot execute arrest warrants, depending on the willingness of the States to enforce them. Given that Israel is not part of the court, as it does not accept its legitimacy, it is unlikely that it will voluntarily hand over suspected war crimes.
In any case it is an important first step for the impunity of the Israeli state and its war crimes to come to an end. “It is high time that the Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the most serious abuses whether they be war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of illegal settlements were brought to justice,” said Balkees Jarrah, Associate Director of Justice, optimistically. Human Rights Watch International8. Hopes so.
1 https://www.icc-cpi.int/palestine 2 https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=pr1566 3 https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=20191220-otp-statement-palestine 4 https://www.icc-cpi.int/CourtRecords/CR2021_01165.PDF 5 https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/296314 6 https://www.barrons.com/news/us-has-serious-concerns-on-icc-jurisdiction-over-palestinian-territories-01612555505 7 https://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinian-said-killed-in-border-riot-as-6000-join-gaza-protests/ 8 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-icc-palestinians-israel-idUSKBN2A52CW