It feels like déjà vu.
Israel launching forced evictions, raids of Al Aqsa mosque, and persecution of Palestinians. Hamas firing rockets fired into Israel. Israel bombing densely populated areas of Gaza, claiming that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields”. Palestinians saying that they have nowhere to hide from the air raids. Populated towers bombed by Israeli forces into rubble. Mothers mourning the loss of their children.
The brazen violence is outrageous. The latest round of this deeply asymmetric conflict has cost at least 254 Palestinians lives (including 66 children) and 12 people in Israel (including two children). Once more, senior UN officials have declared that the bombing of Gaza, if found to be disproportionate, would constitute war crimes.
The situation is on a “doom loop” from which there appears to be no escape. This time, however, is different. This time, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is watching.
The ICC currently has a live investigation into the situation in Palestine. While some insist that the ICC cannot investigate Palestine because it is not a state, this is not a view shared by the court or the majority of its members. It was also made moot when ICC judges gave the green light for an official probe into alleged atrocities committed in Palestine earlier this year.
It is not yet clear which acts or actors might be targeted by the ICC. But all signs point to Hamas leaders and Israeli government officials facing scrutiny. Hamas is accused of war crimes, including for intentionally firing rockets at civilians in Israel. The Israeli government is accused of war crimes for its repeated and disproportionate bombing of Gaza as well as establishing and expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Israel has rejected any ICC investigation, claiming that the court – an institution that came into existence in 2002 to investigate and prosecute mass atrocities – is illegitimate and emboldens “terrorist groups”. Israel loudly supported and coordinated an anti-ICC misinformation campaign with the administration of US President Donald Trump, even endorsing sanctions against senior ICC staff. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went so far as to insist that the court represented “pure anti-Semitism” for investigating war crimes in Palestine and to woo right-wing governments into criticising the court – including those that hold openly anti-Semitic positions.
This hysterical opprobrium comes despite the fact that some experts believe that the ICC is more likely to first start looking into accusations against Hamas because Israel would gladly cooperate with such an investigation and give investigators access to the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli government, however, has made it clear it will not cooperate with an ICC probe into its own crimes and that the Israeli courts would not prosecute alleged Israeli war criminals either.Continue reading