The ICC’s blow to Israel

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 28 May 2024

The warrants requested from the International Criminal Court against the Israeli prime minister and minister of defence will help the world to see the extent of the atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza, writes Azza Radwan Sedky


The International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also faces arrest, as do Mohamed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas, and Ismail Haniyyeh, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau.

Sinwar and other top Hamas leaders are accused of “war crimes and crimes against humanity… including murder, hostage-taking, and torture.”

Prosecutor of the ICC Karim Khan told US journalist Christiane Amanpour on the US TV network CNN that Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, and deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.”

This is a separate case from the one before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) brought by South Africa and accusing Israel of committing genocide in its war on Gaza. Both the ICC and the ICJ are based in The Hague, but they serve different purposes.

Hamas and Israeli politicians have denounced the ICC’s moves. In a statement, Hamas condemned the charges as “attempts by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to equate the victim with the executioner by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders.”

Though Israel and the US are not members of the ICC, Hamas, as a Palestinian group, is. Palestinian leaders signed up as members of the ICC in 2015, so the ICC has jurisdiction over actors in Gaza and other Palestinian Territories.   

The charges against Israel are unprecedented, a reason why the uproar against the ICC by those supporting it has been deafening. Netanyahu expressed his indignation on Twitter (X), saying that “the outrageous decision by the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to seek arrest warrants against the democratically elected leaders of Israel is a moral outrage of historic proportions. It will cast an everlasting mark of shame on the international court.”

Israeli Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said that “placing the leaders of a country that went into battle to protect its citizens in the same line with bloodthirsty terrorists is moral blindness and a violation of its duty and ability to protect its citizens.”

The antisemitic card was also played to the full by Israeli and US lawmakers, who sought to delegitimise the ICC, considering Israel to be a democratic state that should never be charged with such crimes. Extreme-right Israeli Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir accused the ICC of antisemitism and called for an escalation of attacks against Hamas, while Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that “we have not seen such a show of hypocrisy and hatred of Jews as that of the Hague Tribunal since Nazi propaganda.”

US Congressman Andy Barr said that “the International Criminal Court has no legitimate authority to infringe on the sovereign right of a democratic country to defend itself against terrorists. The US must stand for Israel’s right of self-defence and immediately sanction ICC officials.”  

Barr has received over $250,000 from pro-Israeli lobbies in the US.

US Representative Elise Stefanik said that “the ICC is an illegitimate court that equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide. Congress must pass my bill the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act that will punish those in the ICC that made this baseless undemocratic decision.”

In case you were wondering, Stefanik has received nearly $600,000 from the pro-Israeli lobby in the US.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a rampage against the ICC said that “the ICC can go to hell.” He has received over $1 million from pro-Israeli lobbies. According to the Forward, a US news media organisation, the Republican Jewish Coalition funnelled more money to Graham than any other group during the 2020 US elections.

These pro-Israeli Congress members are not the only US lawmakers to receive support from pro-Israeli lobbies, as over 1,400 other Congress representatives were sponsored by such lobbies between 1990 and 2024, according to US non-profit organisation Open Secrets.

Many are criticising the ICC for placing Hamas on the same footing as an elected government. I do not see why this is wrong if that government is using means such as starvation and genocide to achieve its military goals.

Charging both sides in this way brings back memories of the Nobel Peace Prize that former Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat had to share with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in the 1970s. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was a result of Al-Sadat’s initiative and endeavours, but, for reasons unbeknownst to the world, Begin had to be included too – only for former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir to question, “he deserves a Nobel?”

We are seeing a similar slant here in the move to equate both sides.

It is a calculated move by the ICC to charge both. It is also an important one, since it is the first time that such warrants have been issued against a US ally. The only other such warrants issued have been against former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. For many, especially across the Western world, Israel is a democratic state and must remain its coddled child.  

Khan, however, told Amanpour that “nobody is above the law,” even if one senior official told him that “the ICC is built for Africa and thugs like Putin.”

ICC investigations can be lengthy, and this is only the first step. More importantly, it is unlikely that those charged will face prosecution, though the warrants will set limits on their travel abroad since state parties of the ICC have obligations to act on them.

If the court grants Khan’s application and issues arrest warrants, any country that is a member of the ICC must arrest those charged and extradite them to The Hague. Netanyahu and Gallant would thus find it extremely difficult to travel to countries like Britain or Germany, though the US, a non-ICC member, remains a safe haven.

Putin had to cancel his trip to South Africa to attend the BRICS Summit meeting last year since South Africa, as an ICC member, would have been obliged to arrest him.

However, though the charges seem quite extraordinary, they are unlikely to change the status quo. Both sides, and the US, are set in their ways. Netanyahu is determined to continue the onslaught on Gaza despite the international pressure, and Hamas is holding on to the hostages as its only source of pressure against Israel.

We can only hope that the charges are another eye-opener for the world, which must at some point see the atrocities occurring in Gaza for what they really are.


The writer is a former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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