Be Put On Trial For War Crimes?
visit by ICC delegation could increase the risk of
Israeli officials being tried for war crimes.
10, 2016 "Information
- Israel has agreed to allow the International
Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to send a
delegation to Israel and the occupied territories,
revealed at the weekend, in a step that could
dramatically increase the risk of Israeli officials
being tried for war crimes.
Nahshon, a foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed to
Al Jazeera on Sunday that Israel had agreed to the
visit in principle, though the “when and how” were
still under discussion.
move comes as human rights groups have harshly
criticised Israel for
closing investigations into dozens of
allegations that its military broke the laws of war
during an attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014.
prosecutors are reportedly interested in examining
how effective Israel’s legal mechanisms are in
investigating allegations of war crimes.
terms of its founding statute, the ICC could take
over jurisdiction of such probes if it is persuaded
that Israel is unable or unwilling to conduct
credible investigations itself.
only three Israeli soldiers have been indicted on a
relatively minor charge – of looting – even though
Israel’s 51-day offensive, named Protective Edge, in
July and August 2014 resulted in some 2,250
Palestinian deaths. The vast majority were
civilians, including 551 children.
military exonerated itself late last month in 13
cases it had been investigating. These included
lethal attacks on three Palestinian families, the
shelling of a hospital and a United Nations shelter
for civilians, and the bombing of Gaza’s main power
plant. It declined to investigate another 80
response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
criticised Israel for the “low rate of
investigations opened into these serious
Protective Edge, two of Israel’s largest human
rights groups, B’Tselem and Yesh Din, have refused
to cooperate with Israeli investigations in Gaza,
accusing the Israeli military of using them to
“whitewash” its actions.
the New York-based monitoring group, Human Rights
Watch (HRW), added to the pressure on the ICC,
calling for it to open a formal investigation
into the Gaza offensive.
credibility of Israel’s probes has been further
undermined by a report issued last week by two local
human rights groups, Adalah and Al Mezan, based in
Israel and Gaza respectively.
accused Israel of failing to examine properly the
evidence they had collected relating to 27 suspected
war crimes during the 2014 offensive. Five cases
referred to Israeli attacks on UN schools sheltering
civilians. Two years on, the groups
noted, Israel had issued no indictments.
Investigations, where they occurred, were “clearly
Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre for
Palestinian citizens in Israel, told Al Jazeera the
possibility of legal redress in many cases was close
seen Israel conducting flawed investigations or
dragging out the legal process with long delays,” he
said. “The main aim appears to be to place obstacles
in the way of the investigations so that Israel’s
armed forces are not held accountable.”
failure to conduct thorough and transparent
inquiries could open the door to the ICC launching
its own formal investigation, he said.
an unnamed Israeli official tried to downplay the
significance of the visit,
telling the Haaretz daily: “We have nothing to
official added that Israel would point out to the
ICC that it “has neither the authority nor the
justification to handle the Palestinians’
told Al Jazeera: “The goal is to give the ICC a
better grasp on Israel’s legal and judicial system.”
However, he added, “That will make things easier if
we move to another stage” – an apparent reference to
the possibility that the ICC may consider launching
a formal investigation.
Hamad, a Palestinian official dealing with ICC
matters, said the Palestinian Authority hoped that
the visit would “speed up the opening of the
investigation” by the court into Israel’s conduct
during Protective Edge.
provide a clear message to Israel that it cannot
continue to commit crimes with impunity,” he told Al
Jazeera. Hamad said the PA was not told whether the
ICC had requested or was granted permission from
Israel to access Gaza.
This is the
first time Israel has agreed to cooperate with an
international body over allegations that could
ultimately lead to war crimes trials. Israel
denied entry to UN commissions of inquiry in
2009 and 2014, following major offensives in Gaza.
in Washington have repeatedly
voiced their opposition to the ICC exercising
jurisdiction over Israeli nationals. Neither the US
nor Israel has ratified the Rome Statute, the
document establishing The Hague court in 2002.
director of the Israel-Palestine branch of HRW, said
Israel’s continuing restrictions on human rights
organisations entering Gaza had further undermined
the credibility of Israel’s investigations. The
strict controls had made it “more difficult for [the
groups] to do their jobs and to bring relevant
information to light”, she told Al Jazeera.
authorities, she added, had previously conceded that
human rights groups played an important role in
helping to “overcome the fear that Palestinian
residents have of meeting [Israeli military]
and Adalah said that, in many cases, Israel had
refused to speak to any witnesses outside the
military before it dropped inquiries into suspected
received a total of 500 complaints relating to 360
incidents in Gaza in which there are suspicions of
violations of international law.
only a handful of investigations have been opened,
relating mainly to physical assaults on civilians,
“unlawful firing” at buildings, and looting. On
August 24, Israel
announced the closure of more than 93 cases. In
80 cases, no formal investigation was conducted.
on, Israel is still undecided whether to scrutinise
some of the most contentious phases of its
offensive, including the massive bombardment of
Rafah to prevent an Israeli soldier from being taken
prisoner. The incident, known as Black Friday, is
believed to have killed more than 100 Palestinian
residents of the area.
Burnett-Cargill, a spokeswoman in Gaza for Al Mezan,
said Palestinian human rights organisations had sent
to the ICC Palestinian witness statements relating
to Black Friday in March.
these materials and others are raising doubts in the
minds of the ICC’s prosecutors about the seriousness
with which Israel is handling its investigations,”
she told Al Jazeera.
that the Palestinian foreign minister, Riad
al-Malki, had met the ICC prosecutor, Fatou
Bensouda, in The Hague on Friday to promise any help
the court might need to launch a formal
The ICC is
currently conducting a “preliminary inquiry” to
examine whether an investigation is warranted into
suspected violations of international law, either by
Israel or Palestinian factions.
Edge is the first major offensive against the
Palestinians over which The Hague court has
potential jurisdiction. In ratifying the Rome
Statute last year, the Palestinians
gave the ICC authority from June 2014, a month
before Israel’s attack on Gaza.
investigations Israel closed last month was one
looking into the shelling of a UN school in Rafah
that was serving as a temporary shelter for 3,000
Palestinians. Some 12 civilians, including eight
children, were killed and at least 25 injured. Chris
Gunness, a UN spokesman in Jerusalem, told Al
Jazeera that Israel had been given the school’s
coordinates and was warned on 33 separate occasions
of its role as a shelter, the last time being an
hour before the attack.
rights groups have challenged Israel’s claims that
the school was hit because militants riding a
motorbike changed course towards the school after a
missile had been fired at them. Al Mezan’s
testimonies suggest that the riders were
civilians and should not have been targeted. HRW,
discovered that the type of munition Israel used
could have been diverted when it was clear it would
explode near the school.
Al Mezan said Israeli authorities had refused to
divulge the basis for most of their decisions either
to exonerate soldiers or refuse the opening of
investigations, claiming the evidence was
rights groups have criticised the closing of other
investigations. In June, inquiries were dropped
against Neria Yeshurun, a brigade commander who had
admitted to ordering the shelling of a medical
clinic “to raise morale”, apparently in revenge
after one of his officers was killed. Yeshurun was
controversial case, Israel closed an investigation
in June 2015 into the killing of four boys as they
played football on a beach, close to hotels where
foreign reporters were based. Shehadeh said Adalah,
which supplied testimonies to Israel about the boys’
deaths, had immediately appealed the decision to
Israel’s attorney general but had heard nothing for
more than a year.
leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem
said it would no longer submit complaints to the
Israeli authorities. It said it was pointless to
work “with a system whose real function is measured
by its ability to continue to successfully cover
Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of
the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.