The International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office released its annual report on Thursday, including its first preliminary report regarding alleged war crimes committed by Israelis and Palestinians since June 2014. Its greatest focus is on Operation Protective Edge in July-August 2014.
Although there have been rumors for months of informal Israeli cooperation with ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and the government has publicly stayed quiet on the issue, the report states that Israel has been formally cooperating since July 9.
The Foreign and Justice ministries did not have official comments, but a senior Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that “Israel has an engagement with the ICC over competence issues.”
“Competence” is a code word for trying to convince the ICC that there is no state of “Palestine” and that the ICC cannot investigate IDF personnel, because the IDF’s own investigations of its personnel meet international law standards.
After the preliminary investigation was launched in January 2015, the ICC received and analyzed 66 communiques from Israel, the Palestinians and various organizations around the world detailing incidents of Operation Protective Edge, alleged settlements- related war crimes, and other issues.
Many have expected the ICC prosecutor to copy the conclusions of a summer 2015 report by the UNHRC, which was highly critical of Israel and many of whose allegations cited could be serious issues for the IDF. However, the prosecutor’s report in several instances also noted the Israeli narrative.
The preliminary report noted that 4,881 rockets and 1,750 mortar rounds were fired by Hamas at Israel, indicating that these incidents could be claimed as potential war crimes. Additionally, the report echoed IDF Military Intelligence, stating that out of the more than 2,000 Palestinians killed, at least 1,000 were civilians, as opposed to the high of 1,600 civilians claimed by the United Nations and other human 30%. The report did note there were discrepancies regarding those numbers.
Next, the report mentions allegations that Hamas launched attacks from civilian locations, such as schools, hospitals and mosques.
Regarding the first in the series of triggers leading to the summer conflicts, the report partially backed another aspect of the Israeli narrative, emphasizing that Operation Brothers’ Keeper was initiated by the kidnapping and murder of Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, three Israeli teens, a narrative which past reports have under-emphasized.
Further, the report noted Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel in framing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, though it did not explicitly state a position on the legality of the blockade.
Still, the report doubled- down on the prosecutor’s position that “Palestine is a state for ICC purposes,” which Israel rejects, and did note many potential Israeli war crimes.
Moreover, the report cited allegations that “IDF attacks were allegedly directed against civilian residential buildings... UN facilities, hospitals, paramedics and ambulances” as well as that the military allegedly undertook “indiscriminate attacks” in the urban Gaza setting.
The report listed three specific incidents considered to be the worst potential war crimes incidents committed by the IDF during the Gaza war including the Hannibal Protocol or “Black Friday” incident which took place on August 1, 2014, when a Givati Brigade unit working to unearth tunnels, was attacked despite a humanitarian ceasefire being in effect, and the late Lt. Hadar Goldin was kidnapped.
After the IDF sent in a small unit to attempt to prevent the kidnappers from escaping, an initial IDF probe found that IAF fighter jets hit 19 military targets, and ground forces and attack helicopters fired hundreds of artillery rounds and missiles into the area at an additional 14 military targets.
The report indicated the number of civilian casualties surpassed 100 in this incident alone.
The other major two incidents mentioned were the IDF’s alleged killing of large numbers of civilians in Shejaia, in eastern Gaza City, from July 19-21, and in Khuza, in the southern Gaza Strip, from July 23-25 – all incidents highlighted in the summer 2015 UNHRC report.
Settlements and forcible population transfer of Palestinians was also under the microscope, as forcibly removing people from their land can be a war crime in some circumstances. In 2014, the report said the IDF demolished 590 Palestinian homes, displacing 1,177 people.
In 2015, the IDF has so far demolished 245 homes, said the report.
Further, the report mentioned allegations that the IDF West Bank Court system was systematically violating the rights of Palestinian minors.
While mentioning reports submitted by both sides. The report made no explicit mention of either the Israelis’ or Palestinian’s investigations of their own fighters for alleged war crimes.
Israel has issued four reports regarding its investigations of its own soldiers and has initiated nearly 30 full criminal investigations. There have been no announcements by either Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas as to investigations of their own fighters for alleged Palestinian war crimes.
This preliminary report comes after months of investigation and the ICC is expected to continue its evaluation, a process which could take from months to several years to complete. Then it will determine based on the analysis whether to move to the next stage and bring the case to a full criminal investigation.
The annual report, the institution’s fifth, also covers a wide array of other countries it is reviewing.
Previous ICC prosecutor reports from 2009-2012 made occasional mentions of the 2008-2009 Gaza war (Operation Cast Lead), but since the ICC prosecutor did not recognize “Palestine” until January 2015, none of those statements ever reached the stage of even the preliminary examination that is currently under way.