Israel panics after ICC pledges to investigate 'war crimes'

Panic in Israel after ICC move to investigate 'possible' war crimes in occupied Palestinian territories
4 min read
08 February, 2021
The foreign ministry sent a classified cable to Israeli ambassadors for them to ask for support around the world against the ICC ruling
The ICC's ruling said that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories [Getty]
The Israeli foreign ministry has sent a classified cable to dozens of Israeli ambassadors around the world on Sunday with instructions to start a lobbying effort over the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) ruling on Friday.

The ICC's ruling said that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, which opens the path for prosecutors to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli officials said the cable was designated as "urgent" and included an instruction that ambassadors should come to the office on Sunday, in order to read the it and start reaching out to the ministers and heads of government of the countries they are posted in.

The goal would be to have those officials issue statements of opposition to the ICC ruling, as Israel appears concerned over any possible investigation that could lead to international arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers, while boosting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel.

BDS is a movement aiming to end international support for Israel and pressure it to comply with international law.

According to Axios, Israel also intends to ask dozens of allies to convey a "discreet message" to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Monday, to urge her to not move forward with the investigation.

"We ask that (governments) send a discreet message to the prosecutor asking her not to move forward with the investigation against Israeli and not give this case a high priority", the cable reads.

"You are instructed to tell the highest levels of government that if an investigation against Israel starts it will create a continuous crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that will not allow any diplomatic progress to take place between the parties."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, while in the middle of a trial on corruption charges, is expected to send letters to dozens of leaders around the world asking for their support.

Israel's FM Gabi Ashkenazi is also expected to make several calls with international counterparts.

'Reasonable basis' to open Gaza war crimes probe

Panic seemed to spread quickly, as IIC Prosecutor Bensouda announced that she will study the ruling before proceeding to investigate into Israel and Hamas over alleged war crimes during the 2014 war in Gaza.

The ICC ruling simply granted Bensouda that jurisdiction in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians claim all three areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, for a future state.

The prosecutor had started tackling the matter in December 2019, saying that she believed there was a "reasonable basis" to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions and settlement activity, but first the court had to determine whether she had territorial jurisdiction.

Although the Palestinians do not have independence, the state of Palestine was accepted as a non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly in 2012, which allowed them to join the ICC and as a result to ask the court to investigate Israeli military practices in Gaza and settlement activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem from 2014.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday in a letter to the IDF that Israel "will act resolutely to prevent harm to IDF commanders and soldiers", and wanted to reassure the country as "there is no risk to specific Israeli citizens as of result of the international court's decision".

US President Joe Biden’s administration reacted negatively to the ruling, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying in a statement on Friday: "We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences including the ICC".

Palestinian human rights organisations praised the decision in a statement by groups Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Dameer Association for Human Rights.

"A critically important step towards ensuring the rule of law, the decision also marks an important step towards ending impunity, while ensuring the dignity of the Palestinian people," the statement said.

General Director of Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Raji Sourani, also called the international community to let justice be served.

"This decision means that the international community will no longer accept Israel’s subjection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza to the inhumane closure and brutal military offensives," Sourani said.

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