ICC begins investigating Israeli and Palestinian war crimes

On Friday 5 February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it will begin investigating allegations of war crimes committed by both Israeli and Palestinian actors in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced serious opposition to the investigation but has no legal basis for his displeasure given that Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem are Palestinian territories and Palestine accepts ICC jurisdiction. 

The alleged perpetrators the ICC intends to prosecute mainly originate out of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the Israel side, and Hamas on the Palestinian. 

In the last decade alone, Hamas and the IDF have supposedly violated international humanitarian law frequently. 

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Crimes allegedly committed include: a 2014 air strike by the IDF which killed thousands of Palestinian civilians; the use of civilians as human shields by Hamas; a 2018 shooting of Palestinian children, the elderly, and health workers by the IDF; and that same year, torture and arbitrary detention of Israeli civilians by Hamas. 

In order to be properly detained following a guilty verdict, the alleged war criminals will need to be brought to The Hague. 

However, if a war criminal’s home country does not accept ICC jurisdiction – as is the case with the accused Israelis – they may never get there, given that the ICC relies on state cooperation to get criminals to The Hague. 

Furthermore, the ICC only gets involved in the first place if domestic courts do not seek prosecution. 

Though there is some international legal precedent regarding snatching up another state’s war criminals and forcing them to The Hague, in past decades it has been exceedingly rare, and is frowned upon by most human rights organizations and national courts. 

Accused Israeli war criminals, therefore, would have a strong advantage in the instance of a guilty verdict since they would possibly never even enter The Hague to be detained. 

Accused Palestinian war criminals on the other hand, would almost certainly be detained given that Palestine accepts ICC jurisdiction. 

However, although the accused Israeli war criminals may never be detained in the instance of a guilty verdict, they will likely never set foot in Gaza, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem again, since they risk extradition if detained by Palestinian authorities. 

In the instance that Netanyahu does not hand over the accused war criminals to the ICC, should they be found guilty, it may at least push the Biden administration to cease US military support of Israel and maybe even accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, subjecting its own war criminals to The Hague for detention for crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Image: Flickr

By Anna Hendricks

Opinion Columnist