Israel fears ICC warrants

Al-Ahram Weekly , Tuesday 30 Apr 2024

Seven months into the country’s war on Gaza, Israel’s top military brass is only now starting to fear the possibility of being held accountable for war crimes

Israel fears ICC warrants


Israel’s local media has recently been rife with concerns in Tel Aviv of possible international arrest warrants for the country’s top military brass by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

According to the Times of Israel daily, Israeli’s National Security Council and Foreign Ministry are making concerted efforts to head off “feared plans” by the ICC to issue arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Army Chief Herzl Halevi, and other top Israeli officials on suspicions of war crimes in Gaza.

Citing an unidentified source, the paper said that the major focus of the feared ICC allegations will be that Israel “deliberately starved Palestinians in Gaza.”

The ICC’s Prosecutor’s Office has not issued any statements, but staff from The Hague-based court told Reuters that they have interviewed staff from Gaza’s two biggest hospitals, the Al-Shifa and Nasser Hospitals.

According to Reuters, ICC investigators took testimony from staff in these Hospitals, confirming that events surrounding them could become part of the court’s investigation.

The ICC has said it is investigating both sides in the conflict, including both the attack by the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s war on the besieged enclave since.

On Friday, Netanyahu said that the court’s decisions would not affect the Israeli Occupation Force’s (IOF) war on Gaza or its actions under his leadership.

In an effort to improve Israel’s damaged public image as international protests against its genocidal war in Gaza continue, a spokesman for the IOF gave a rare briefing on the Shabaat holiday for foreign reporters about an alleged increase in humanitarian assistance into the besieged Strip.

Described by the Times of Israel as an attempt to “blunt the ICC campaign,” the paper’s source confirmed reports that the US was part of a last-ditch diplomatic effort to prevent the ICC from moving forward.

Neither Israel nor the US are state parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which investigates, tries, and issues arrest warrants for individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

Palestine has been a member of the ICC since 2015.

Hospitals are protected during wartime by international treaties, that can make attacks on them war crimes under the ICC.

In recent days, Palestinian officials have also demanded investigations after approximately 400 bodies were exhumed from mass graves at the Nasser Hospital following the IOF’s withdrawal from the area.

Footage of mutilated Palestinian corpses with missing body parts and of women, children, and hospital staff in scrubs, the majority of whom were found with their hands tied, was broadcast live on the Aljazeera TV network last week.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed by the IOF since October last year with thousands more feared buried under the rubble of the largely destroyed Gaza Strip. Israel has destroyed the vast majority of Gaza’s infrastructure, including all its universities, most of its hospitals, and most of its civilian, government, and cultural infrastructure and institutions.

The vast majority of its 2.2 million population has been displaced and forced to live in tents as Israel continues to impose restrictions on humanitarian assistance. UN officials and agencies have repeatedly described a man-made famine that is now killing dozens of Palestinians a day.

Israel is accused of violating the Genocide Convention in a case that is pending before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is separate from the ICC.

Earlier this week memos from both the US State Department and USAID revealed warnings to Secretary of State Antony Blinken over Israel’s possible violation of international humanitarian law and blocking aid to Gaza.

One memo jointly submitted by four bureaus, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour; Population, Refugees, and Migration; Global Criminal Justice; and International Organisation Affairs, raised “serious concerns over non-compliance” with international humanitarian law in Israel’s conduct of the Gaza war.

According to one memo obtained by Reuters on Saturday, the senior officials reportedly cited eight examples of Israeli military action that could be considered as such violations, including the repeated bombing of protected sites and civilian infrastructure, a massive level of civilian harm, the lack of accountability for those who cause significant civilian harm, and the killing of journalists and humanitarian workers.

While the White House has not commented on the memos, the Biden administration has repeatedly claimed that Israel has not violated international law, going as far as to defend a country that is facing charges of genocide at the ICJ.

US Congress members from both parties have reportedly taken action to influence the ICC’s Prosecutor Karim Khan. According to the Axios news site, Congress members have warned the ICC that Washington will retaliate against the court if it takes action against Israeli officials and that US legislation on the reported warrants is already being worked on, citing House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, as expecting a bill to sanction ICC officials.

Khan, who visited Israel and the West Bank in December, but not Gaza, has been criticised by Palestinians and the international rights community for failing to investigate Israel’s war crimes in the Strip.

An informed source told Al-Ahram Weekly that there are indications that things are moving in the ICC, but not how imminently or how far the indictments will go.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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