By Ray Hanania
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week issued a scathing report that concluded there is sufficient basis to investigate potential war crimes committed by the Israeli authorities against the Palestinians during the 2014 hostilities in Gaza. According to the ICC, all of the criteria of the Rome Statute needed for an investigation of war crimes had been met.
The report also concluded that members of Hamas were likely to have committed war crimes. But that conclusion does not carry the same weight because Israel is a sovereign government with a heavily armed professional military, while Hamas is a collection of militants and extremists who lack government standing. There is a significant difference between the two. It’s like the arguments made today regarding the killings by police of teenagers on the streets of several American cities. Heavily armed police officers have allegedly overreacted to minor infractions by killing the perpetrators, rather than simply arresting them. That excessive force against often unarmed civilians is an immoral crime.
Israel has tried to deflect the ICC’s investigation and enlisted the support of US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In June, Pompeo decried the court because of its investigation into the war crimes accusations filed by the government of Palestine in 2018. He denounced the ICC as a “kangaroo court.”
However, the ICC, which was born in the same year as the state of Israel, 1948, was midwifed by the same international organization, the UN. At that time, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which states: “Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity; and being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international cooperation is required.”
Article I of that convention characterizes genocide as “a crime under international law,” and article VI provides that persons charged with genocide “shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction.” The UNGA also invited the International Law Commission “to study the desirability and possibility of establishing an international judicial organ for the trial of persons charged with genocide.”
No amount of political propaganda from a weakened secretary of state, or tweeting by an outgoing, lame duck American president, will prevent the ICC from pursuing its duty to investigate the most heinous of crimes against humanity.
So what did Israel do in Gaza in 2014? During a seven-week military invasion, Israel’s military rampaged through the poverty-stricken civilian population, responding to provocations from Hamas. More than 2,300 Palestinians were killed and nearly 11,000 were injured. The vast majority of the dead and injured were civilians. Israel defended its actions by arguing that Hamas militants had used the civilians as “human shields.”
Israel justified its invasion by asserting that Hamas extremists were responsible for the murder of three Israeli teenagers, despite a lack of evidence. Israel blamed all violence on Hamas and the Palestinians generally, rarely acknowledging its own violence or crimes. With the backing of a biased mainstream news media, and millions of dollars set aside for public relations propaganda, Israel enforced its argument despite the reality of videos, photographs and eyewitness testimony that claimed Israeli soldiers intentionally killed civilians.
But the ICC isn’t swayed by Israel or by the rhetoric of politicians. Its prosecutor’s report stated: “The Office found there was a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Israel Defense Forces committed the war crimes of: Intentionally launching disproportionate attacks in relation to at least three incidents which the Office has focused on; willful killing and willfully causing serious injury to body or health; and intentionally directing an attack against objects or persons using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions.”
The report added: “In addition, Office found there was a reasonable basis to believe that members of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups committed the war crimes of: Intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects; using protected persons as shields; willfully depriving protected persons of the rights of fair and regular trial; and willful killing and torture or inhuman treatment and/or outrages upon personal dignity.”
Each accusation is backed up by an article of the Rome Statute, which is the legal basis of the ICC’s existence and mandate. Israel can bury its head in the sand, but it won’t be able to avoid prosecution, regardless of who sits in the White House.