ICC chief prosecutor dismisses anti-Semitism allegation

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rejected the charge of anti-Semitism following its announcement to launch a full investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.

The landmark decision was met with hostility in Tel-Aviv. Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissed the court’s decision, stating that it had no jurisdiction to investigate in the Palestinian Territories.

To disrupt the court’s investigation, Israel threatened to prevent ICC officials from entering the occupied territories; a move that would mirror its treatment of United Nations investigators, also prevented from entering the region.

Further attack on the ICC ensued. Netanyahu denounced the court’s decision as “pure anti-Semitism,” during a candle-lighting ceremony marking the start of the eight-day Hanukkah holiday, last month.

“New edicts are being cast against the Jewish people – anti-Semitic edicts by the International Criminal Court telling us that we, the Jews, standing here next to this wall … in this city, in this country, have no right to live here and that by doing so, we are committing a war crime,” asserted the Israeli prime minister.

READ: More war crimes are Israel’s plan for the immediate future

Other senior politicians, The Times of Israel reported, similarly condemned the court and its prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, because of her decision.

Some Israeli journalists published articles highlighting her past as a senior official in the Gambian government, where she served under a brutal dictator, in an apparent effort to sully her reputation.

This week chief ICC prosecutor, Bensouda, dismissed the accusation, in an interview with The Times of Israel. “This is a particularly regrettable accusation that is without merit,” stressed Bensouda.

Bensouda explained that she expected to face attempts to undermine her credibility through “character assassination” in the same way that witnesses are discredited and undermined during a legal case.

“I, along with my office, execute our mandate under the Rome Statute with utmost independence, objectivity, fairness and professional integrity.

We will continue to meet our responsibilities as required by the Rome Statute without fear or favour,” she added.

READ: Will Israel ‘invade The Hague’ now?

Bensouda is the latest in a growing list of people to face the charge of anti-Semitism. Last week a Jewish teacher in a New York school was fired for expressing remarks critical of Israel.

150 people signed a letter in defense of the teacher, in which it was claimed that the controversy around her firing was another instance in the “weaponisation of anti-Semitism” which “is the subject of a pitched battle within Jewish communities.”

Their concerns were echoed in December by the author of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism, who spoke out over its misuse and warned of its “chilling effect” on free speech. US attorney, Kenneth Stern, who drafted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition of antisemitism,” warned that “right-wing Jews were weaponizing” it to supress criticism of Israel.

Israhell: “The ICC prosecutor has caved in to Palestinian lies and hatred”

The decision flies in the face of anyone who still believes the Israeli claim that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is the “most moral army in the world,” or that Israel does not commit war crimes.

January 1, 2020

Israel attack on the Gaza Strip killed nine Palestinians from the same family 2019 Christmas eve.

Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor, said in a statement regarding “alleged crimes” committed in the occupied Palestinian territories that “all the statutory criteria under the Rome Statute for the opening of an investigation have been met.”

The territories in question include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. These territories constitute the state of Palestine, as it is recognized by the United Nations.

The decision flies in the face of anyone who still believes the Israeli claim that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is the “most moral army in the world,” or that Israel does not commit war crimes.

Issues of Jurisdiction

Under the Rome Statute, the founding document that established the International Criminal Court, it is determined that cases can be heard by the court only if one of the affected parties is a signatory. The state of Palestine has been a signatory since 2015.

Israel, which like the United States never signed the Rome Statute, claims that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction to investigate issues related to it.

Yet according to UN General Assembly resolution 67/19, adopted on November 29, 2012, Palestine assumed the status of a UN “non-member observer state,” affording it the ability to accede to international treaties like the Rome Statute, and indeed it didn’t take long for Palestine to become the 123rd state party to the statute giving the ICC the legal right to exercise jurisdiction on its territory.

Clearly anticipating that the ICC jurisdiction over Palestine would be called into questions by Israel, Prosecutor Bensouda said in her statement, the full version of which can be found on the ICC website, that she had filed a request for a jurisdictional ruling on the issue.

“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank and Gaza,” Bensouda said.

She went on to say that she recognizes that “Palestine does not have full control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its borders are disputed.”

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are heavily controlled by the Israeli government and East Jerusalem has been effectively annexed by Israel.

Image result for US envoy smashes wall dug under Palestinian homes in E. Jerusalem with SLEDGEHAMMER animated gif

Bensouda quite oddly adds that “The Palestinian Authority does not govern Gaza.” Hamas, however, is the party that currently governs Gaza, in as much as Israeli permits it to do so, as it is the party that won the 2006 Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections.”

Bensouda says that although she is of the view that “the Court may exercise its jurisdiction notwithstanding these matters,” she is aware of contrary views, and therefore “requests that a Pre-Trial Chamber I (“the Chamber”) rule on the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the situation in Palestine.”

Specifically, Bensouda affirmed, she is seeking confirmation that the “territory” over which the ICC may exercise jurisdiction comprises the “Occupied Palestinian Territory, that is the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

She also made it clear that she wants the issue determined before she begins an investigation instead of being settled later by judges after her investigations are completed. It is not clear when a decision will be made on this, but Bensouda said she had asked the court to “rule expeditiously” and to allow potential victims to participate in proceedings.

Israel Responds

Notwithstanding the legal challenges, the decision of the prosecutor is encouraging. In Israel, the reactions to her decision were predictably fast, and not surprisingly, fierce. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to Bensouda’s decision was that it is “baseless and outrageous.”

As expected, he said that “the court has no jurisdiction” because only sovereign states can petition the court, and “there has never been a sovereign Palestinian state.” He added that the ICC’s decision means that Jews living in their historic homeland, the land of the Bible, is a war crime.

National Union chairman and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted his response to the ICC prosecutor’s decision saying that that the Prime Minister should give the Palestinian Authority 48-hours to pull its petition to the ICC or else face being “torn down.”

He added that this should have been done long ago when the Palestinians first petitioned the UN for statehood.

Yair Lapid, a co-founder of Israel’s Blue and White party, tweeted, “The ICC prosecutor has caved in to Palestinian lies and hatred.

US/Israel will discredit and disconnect from authoritative organizations that disagrees with Israel.

As a former member of the Security Cabinet and a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I can testify that the IDF does more than any army in history to prevent civilian casualties.”

Despite the evidence, this is a claim often repeated by Israeli politicians.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz also attacked the court’s decision. Having served as the IDF Chief of Staff, he is likely to be a major target of any investigation into war crimes.

In his response to the decision, he mentioned his decades of military service, including “serving as the IDF’s 20th Chief of Staff.”

He stated that “the IDF is one of the most moral armies in the world,” and asserted that “The IDF and the State of Israel do not commit war crimes.” Gantz oversaw more than one Israeli assault on the besieged Gaza strip, assaults that saw scores of civilian casualties.

Israeli Fears

Israel has good reason to fear the International Criminal Court’s decision. Moving forward with an investigation into crimes committed in the Palestinian territories will expose both current and former government officials and military personnel to prosecution when they travel abroad.

That fear is not entirely irrational and not without precedent.

In 2011, it was reported that retired Israeli General Danny Rothschild was forced to cut a scheduled visit to London short and cancel two planned lectures there. This after the Israeli Embassy warned him he was in danger of being arrested if he stayed in the country.

The event came a day after Knesset member and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz was forced to cut short a London visit for the same reason.

All roads lead to Israel

Trial International, an NGO that fights impunity for international crimes and supports victims in their quest for justice, reports that on June 30, 2016, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in London for a conference and was summoned to the police regarding allegations of war crimes committed between 2008 and 2009.

Livni was ultimately granted diplomatic immunity. Then, on January 23, 2017, Livni was invited to attend a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels when the Belgium prosecutor’s office announced its intention to arrest and question her regarding her alleged involvement in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s bloody 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008. Livini decided to cancel her trip to Belgium.

Matan Kahana is a member of the Israeli “New Right” party. Kahana is a retired colonel in the IDF who served both as a soldier in Israel’s notorious murder squad “Sayeret Matkal” and as a fighter pilot and officer in the Israeli Airforce. He participated in countless “operations” in which Palestinian civilians were killed.

As an airforce pilot, he would have been directly involved in bombing and killing countless defenseless citizens in the Gaza Strip. Kahana made a statement on Twitter following the ICC’s announcement that “if only people knew how careful the IDF soldiers try not to harm “uninvolved persons.”

Gaza is under attack at this moment.

Yet these “efforts” Kahana and other Israeli officials speak of seem to fail time and time again. The number of civilian casualties from Israeli attacks is staggering and has reached the point where one must question the intent of the IDF and those who send it on these so-called missions.

While a thorough investigation will no doubt precede any decision by the International Criminal Court, it doesn’t take a great legal scholar to understand that dropping tons of bombs from fighter jets on a defenseless civilian population constitutes a war crime.

The full report of the prosecutor states that the scope of any formal proceedings is also likely to include an investigation into the “use by members of the IDF of non-lethal and lethal means against persons participating in demonstrations beginning in March 2018.”

The demonstrations the ICC is referring to are the protests known as “The Great Return March.” This means that the enormous efforts Israel makes to justify its attacks on Palestinians — and to claim that they are carried out in self-defense only — may finally be beginning to fail.

Israel fears ICC could issue global arrest warrants for top officials

If Israeli officials and military personnel have not committed any war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem, why would they be so scared of such a probe. Why would not the Israeli government cooperate to prove the Palestinian claim is false???
It is always the guilty who is afraid and does not want any investigation into their actions. Simple fact.

PM, defense ministers, IDF chiefs, low-level soldiers could all face prosecution if probe launched; minister: Netanyahu should give PA ultimatum — pull ICC appeal or be torn down

Israel fears the International Criminal Court’s decision to move forward with a potential investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories by Israel will open up current and former government officials and military personnel to prosecution on the global stage, according to a report Saturday.

With Israel planning to refuse to cooperate with a potential investigation by the ICC, officials fear top officers of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as low-ranking soldiers, could face international arrest warrants, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

The prime minister, defense ministers, IDF chiefs and the heads of the Shin Bet security service over the past five years could all face the danger of prosecution.

The ICC deals with the prosecution of individuals for alleged crimes, rather than states.

Regarding the question of whether Israel will cooperate with the ICC’s pre-trial chamber in the coming 120 days, an official in the PMO said: “A decision will be reached after the legal teams make their recommendations.”

Meanwhile diplomatic sources told Channel 12: “There will be no cooperation with the court… certainly not if it will eventually be decided to open an [official] probe.”

Private Israeli organizations could potentially defend those prosecuted but the Israeli government would not work with a probe in any formal capacity, they said.

 

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of Saturday evening called ICC top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision to move forward with an investigation as “unreasonable” and “rash.”

He said Israel “is a democratic state of law, obligated and committed to respecting international law and humanitarian values. This commitment has stood strong for decades, through all the challenged and tough times Israel has faced. It is rooted in the character and values of the State of Israel and guaranteed by a strong and independent justice system…there is no place for international judicial intervention in such a situation.”

The probe will apparently cover Israel’s policy of settling its citizens in the West Bank, its actions during the 2014 war in Gaza and its response to the Palestinian protests on the Strip’s border held since March of last year. It will also look at Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians during the 2014 war and its use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Bensouda has now referred the matter of the probe to the Hague-based tribunal to rule on the specific territory over which it has jurisdiction, as Israel is not a member of the court.

On Saturday, National Union chairman and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the Palestinian Authority a 48-hour ultimatum to pull its petition or see the Ramallah-based political authority “torn down.”

Smotrich slammed the ICC as “anti-Semitic” and said Netanyahu should have issued the ultimatum to the PA years ago when it filed the request to open the probe in 2015.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz also attacked the court’s decision. Citing his decades of military service, including as the IDF’s 20th chief of staff, Gantz “unequivocally” stated that “the IDF is one of the most moral armies in the world.”

He asserted that “The IDF and the State of Israel do not commit war crimes.”

Gantz argued that there was “no basis” for the ICC top prosecutor’s demand that a criminal probe be opened into “the situation in Palestine.”

Gantz argued that Bensouda’s decision had been politically rather than legally based.

 

“I want to be clear: In the fight for Israel’s international legitimacy: there is no coalition or opposition. We will all fight for justice and for our fundamental right to defend the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel,” the Blue and White chairman said.

New Right MK and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked called the move “a political, hypocritical and predictable decision.”

Repeating the official Israeli line on the matter, Shaked said the ICC “has no authority” to open the probe. She then called on the government to “fight the court with all the tools at its

disposal.”

But on the left, lawmakers remained largely silent in the more than 24 hours since Bensouda announced there was a “basis” to investigate alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Democratic Camp chairman Nitzan Horowitz retweeted a post by an Israeli reporter who pointed out that Netanyahu was warned last month that the probe could be imminent after Bensouda wrote her office was watching with “concern” following the premier’s announcement of his plans to annex the Jordan Valley.

Bensouda said Friday that in addition to there being grounds to probe Israel, there was also a “reasonable basis” that Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups committed war crimes by targeting civilians and torturing individuals.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Saturday that the PA would file a list to the ICC with the names of all “the Palestinian victims” of the conflict.

Israel was built on a lie and everything that comes from it is a lie.

In the Gaza Strip, a Hamas spokesman praised the announcement, even though Bensouda said there were also grounds to probe the terror group for war crimes.

The ICC announcement has been widely praised by Palestinian leaders, with PA President Mahmoud Abbas calling it a “great” and “historic” day.

“We have achieved what we want, and from this day on, the ICC machine will start accepting the cases that we have previously presented,” he was quoted saying by the official Wafa news agency at an event for his Fatah party in Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu called it “a dark day for truth and justice.”

It was also condemned by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the inquiry “unfairly targets” the Jewish state.

Netanyahu expressed astonishment that Bensouda “says it is a crime, a war crime, for Jews to live in their homeland, the land of the Bible, the land of our forefathers.” Bensouda had said Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in the West Bank could constitute a crime.

Anticipating Bensouda’s announcement, Israeli officials had earlier made public a legal opinion by Mandelblit arguing that the court has no jurisdiction for an investigation. He claimed that by turning to the ICC, the Palestinians were seeking “to push the Court to determine political issues that should be resolved by negotiations, and not by criminal proceedings.”

According to the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, Tal Becker, “There is a Palestinian effort to criminalize the conflict, where only the Israelis have legal obligations and only the Palestinians have rights. But as history has shown, that will only drive the two sides further apart.”

 

ICC was launched in 2015 after the PA signed the Rome Statute and formally accepted the court’s jurisdiction over its territory. It probes Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, the 2014 Gaza War and the so-called March of Return Gaza border protests.

Bensouda has in the past indicated that the question of whether the court has jurisdiction was a complicated one, which is why the attorney general last year decided to issue a paper explaining Israel’s point of view, said Roy Schöndorf, the deputy attorney general for international law at the Justice Ministry.

The attorney general’s report only deals with the ICC’s supposed lack of jurisdiction. Mandelblit did not address other matters that the prosecutor has to take into account as she weighs opening an investigation, such as whether the alleged crimes are grave enough to merit the court’s involvement, or if local courts are reliable to investigate them.

Israel’s B’Tselem to describe demolitions as ‘war crimes’ for ICC

If nothing else it pleases me that Israhell always has a rock in it’s stolen shoe and exists in a constant state of fear that they will be replaced by the natives…

February 6, 2018

B’Tselem’s executive director speaks about his organization’s decision to describe the demolition and displacement of Palestinian villages as ‘war crimes,’ and the role of international pressure in changing Israeli policy in the West Bank.
B’Tselem’s decision to start describing forcible displacement as a war crime is of particular significance considering that the ICC prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination into Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, specifically including its settlements and forcible population transfer, among other alleged crimes.

The international diplomatic and human rights community often couches its criticism of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians in softened, diplomatic terms. For years the U.S. State Department called Israeli settlements “unhelpful.” EU diplomats described the planned forced displacement of entire Palestinian communities as “contrary to Israel’s obligations” under international law.
Related stories

There are other words to describe these actions, however. According to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), both Israel’s settlement enterprise and forcible transfer of Palestinian communities could easily fall under the definition of war crimes.

It was of particular note, therefore, that late last year Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem sent a letter to Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, justice minister, and top military officials about the planned forcible displacement of two Palestinian communities, Susya and Khan al-Amer, warning that “these actions would constitute a war crime committed at your instruction and under your responsibility, and for which you would bear personal liability.”

B’Tselem’s decision to start describing forcible displacement as a war crime is of particular significance considering that the ICC prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination into Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, specifically including its settlements and forcible population transfer, among other alleged crimes.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the two villages named in B’Tselem’s letter, Susya and Khan al-Amer, are once again waging public campaigns to stave off their demolition and displacement. In the past pressure by European and American diplomats has succeeded in delaying demolitions in those villages. But with the Trump administration thus far showing zero willingness to criticize Israel, all that could change.

+972 spoke with B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad earlier this week about the decision to describe Israel’s actions against Palestinian communities in the West Bank as war crimes, whether that should also be the case for settlements and the planned mass deportation of asylum seekers, and the most effective path for saving communities like Susya and Khan al Amer.

The following interview has been edited for length.

What prompted the change in language?

When we issued that statement [about moving to war crimes terminology], it was in response to a quite unprecedented statement by the minister of defense a couple of months ago, that they have a concrete plan to entirely demolish two Palestinian communities, Khan al-Ahmer and Susya, which is almost unprecedented since 1967.

That was a highly unusual statement by the defense minister. At the same time, it needs to be said — and we’re saying this as well — that the overall policy of trying to forcefully displace Palestinians out of major parts of the West Bank through creating unlivable, unbearable conditions is not new.

What are the goals of the shift to using ‘war crimes’ terminology?

In the most direct sense, we want prevent war crimes from occurring. We want to stop these policies. We want to prevent forcible displacement. We think it’s the obvious right of Palestinian communities to continue living their lives and to develop their communities where they are. And Israel’s use of ‘rule of law’ justifications to implement this policy does not in any way make it legal or lawful or acceptable. The state gives a lot of attention to legal process so that it can find legal justifications for actions that are unjustifiable, and unfortunately the courts have been cooperating with that for many years.
ACRI executive director Hagai El-Ad at the Human Rights Day march in Tel Aviv, December 11, 2009 (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The second thing is the tactical choice in the implementation of this policy to do it gradually, over time, and not by directly, physically putting Palestinian families on trucks and shipping them from one part of the West Bank to another. [Instead, it is done] through the creation of unbearable living conditions so that people will self-deport themselves from one part of the West Bank to another. That’s the strategy.

The point we made is that the fact that this is done through by creating unbearable living conditions — demolishing water systems and classrooms and homes and taking solar panels, all of these are various aspects of creating unbearable living conditions — does not make acceptable or legal in anyway.

Is there a potentially broader scope for this? Is there a hope that designating these policies as war crimes will have some implications in the international legal arena, and not just in Israel?

What we have seen in recent years is that the one thing, the only effective leverage that has prevented the state from going ahead with certain actions was international pressure, through statements, visits by diplomats, and conversations between Israeli officials and representatives of other countries that happened quietly. Susya is very well known but there are many efforts in other parts of the West Bank.

In the piece in Haaretz with Liberman, in which he made that statement with regard to Susya and Khan al-Ahmar, if you read the article — I’m not sure if its a direct quote or provided as context by the reporter — there’s a sentence that says the previous U.S. administration used to give a lot of attention to these communities, but apparently that is no longer the case. Which again demonstrates the same point: it is only international pressure and condemnation that has worked. It has not succeeded in providing proper protection for all of these communities all over the West Bank — far from it. But it was successful in buying more time and in limiting to some extent some of Israel’s actions. If no one is preserving those red lines any more, then that can have dire consequences.
Susya, West Bank, Palestinian village under threat of destruction (Activestills)

Susya, West Bank, Palestinian village under threat of destruction (Activestills)

Is the change in language a way to make opposing the demolitions more effective? How sustainable is the current strategy of organizing an international campaign for specific villages each time when there are so many villages under threat?

Time will tell whether this is effective or not. But before the question of effectiveness, we have a responsibility as a human rights organization to call things as they are. So at the most direct level, we’re calling a spade a spade because it’s a spade; it is our legal analysis and the way we see things as they are.

At the same time, humanity did not invent these terms just for the sake of academic discussion. Humanity invented these terms in order to prevent them from taking place, to provide red lines so that they will not be crossed.

Will you be using war crimes language to describe other Israel policies, like the expansion and legalization of settlements, or the deportation of asylum seekers?

I don’t know. Of course, there is a lot of concern that over-usage of this language — that [it] will end up losing its effectiveness, to the extent that it even has that. We try to use the appropriate language and speak with the right moral conviction as it is relevant to the current reality — not overdoing it and not under-doing it.

I have to say, with a lot of bitterness and pain, that this reality, this slowly moving strategy in the West Bank to displace Palestinians through these tactics of creating unbearable living conditions — it is not new. There were phases during the years when it slowed down; there were phases during the years when its ticked up. And in the meantime, that means that even if the strategy in some places is not successful, because Palestinians somehow succeed in holding onto their land and their communities — through courage and commitment and steadfastness — even if that is the case, it means that in the meantime, and the meantime can be a very long time, thousands of people have to endure living under conditions that are absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable. And all this is done out of a planned policy to displace them.

The cruelty of this ongoing reality — even on days when there is no demolition, no legal developments, absolutely usual days when nothing happens — is another day people need to endure without electricity, connection to the water grid, and with the knowledge that demolition may be coming, with that fear all of the time. For us that’s the most important thing that we have to try and reverse.