International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Palestine

The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for a criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.

Judges said their decision was based on jurisdictional rules in its founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.

Israel, which is not a member of the court, has rejected its jurisdiction.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in 2019 that there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. But she asked the court to determine whether she has territorial jurisdiction before proceeding with the case.

She named both the Israeli Defence Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

In a majority ruling published Friday night, the judges said yes.

“The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.

The Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015, have long pushed for the case and asked the court to look into Israeli actions during its 2014 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

Nabil Shaath, a senior aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed the decision and said it proved the Palestinians were right to go to the ICC. “This is good news, and the next step is to launch an official investigation into Israel’s crimes against our people,” he said

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the decision “proves once again the court is a political body and not a legal institution.”

He added that Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.

International human rights groups immediately welcomed the decision, with the New York-based Human Rights Watch calling it “pivotal”.

The ruling “finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half-century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel on international justice at Human Rights Watch