- "I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."
- Israeli PM Netanyahu argues "the court has no jurisdiction in this case."
- Bensouda said the investigation itself can only begin after the Supreme Court has decided which territory has jurisdiction.
The International Criminal Court (ICC ) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced on Friday the opening of an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, a move that provoked a furious reaction from Israel. “I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” said Bensouda via a statement.
“In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” she added but she didn’t specify the perpetrators of the alleged crimes in question. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately protested, saying that the ICC, of which Israel is not a member, turned the Hague-based court into a “political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel.” He added that Friday was a “dark day for truth and justice.” Netanyahu added, “the court has no jurisdiction in this case. The ICC only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state.”
The Palestinians, on their part, celebrated the ICC prosecutor’s decision. The ICC was created in 2002 as the only court in the world with the right to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Palestine welcomes this step as a long-overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of preliminary examination,” said the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through a statement.
Ammar Hijazi, Palestine assistant minister for multilateral affairs described the calls for investigation as “part of justice for the Palestinian people.” Hijazi added, “what we seek is an end to the oppression, to the tyranny that is being exerted, the violation of human rights . . . of Palestinian people.”
Bensouda began a preliminary investigation in January 2015 into allegations of crimes in Israel and the Palestinian territories, following the Gaza war in 2014. The conflict left 2,251 people dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 among Israelis, mostly military. It also examined violence near the Israeli-Gaza border in 2018.
The ICC can only prosecute individuals, as states cannot be indicted. Bensouda said the investigation itself can only begin after the Supreme Court has decided which territory has jurisdiction, since Israel is not a member of the ICC, and the Palestinians joined it in 2015.
Many challenges are ahead for the ICC. In 2018, for instance, the then-national security adviser of the United States, John Bolton, threatened to arrest the judges of the ICC if they act against Israel and the Americans. In another case, the ICC prosecutor declined to complain about an Israeli operation in 2010 against a fleet carrying aid to Gaza in which nine Turks died and called for the investigation to be closed.
Israel, as well as its ally, the United States, both declined to sign up to the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands. The Palestinians, who officially became signatories of the ICC in 2015, already accepted the court’s jurisdiction but have repeatedly implored it to act faster.