ICC mulls war crimes charges against Israel, Palestinians amid ongoing violence

The ICC Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination of war crimes complaints relating to the 2014 Gaza war and the settlements in January 2015.

A Palestinian demonstrator sets fire to an Israeli flag near the West Bank settlement of Beit El (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian demonstrator sets fire to an Israeli flag near the West Bank settlement of Beit El
(photo credit: REUTERS)
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will examine acts of violence and incitement by Israelis and Palestinians in the last month to see if they could be considered war crimes that fall within the court’s jurisdiction.
Bensouda agreed to probe Israeli and Palestinian actions at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He met with her at the Hague in The Netherlands on Friday and handed her a dossier of alleged new evidence against Israel.
Bensouda said she will “examine whether any of the newly reported incidents of violence constitute crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC, and for the same purpose, will continue to record any new instances of violence or incitement to violence that may occur in the future.”
During the meeting, Bensouda “underscored that innocent people have been injured and killed on both sides, and cautioned that the situation may further degenerate into a large-scale commission of war crimes that may fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC,” her office said.
Further, she “warned that anyone – on either side – who commits, orders, incites, encourages or contributes in any other way to the commission of crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC is liable to prosecution either at the national level or at the court.”
Referring to the recent escalation of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, Bensouda “stressed the need for calm and restraint from all sides, and an end to the violence.”
The ICC prosecutor already has opened a preliminary examination of war crimes complaints relating to the 2014 Gaza war and West Bank settlements in January 2015, but has yet to issue any conclusions.
ICC investigations can examine only events after November 29, 2012, when the UN General Assembly voted to give Palestine non-Member Observer State status. In January, Bensouda concurred that Palestine could be considered a state before the ICC, over continued objections by Israel.
Bensouda said of Friday’s meeting that she had ”received HE Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Palestine.”
Israel still hopes that Bensouda will close her preliminary examination without opening a full criminal investigation, which would plunge Israeli soldiers and potentially civilian leaders involved in war policy into new levels of jeopardy.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment about the ICC’s latest statement.
Israel has asked the international community to condemn the spate of some 60 Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers in the last month, which has killed 11 and wounded 100 more.
At least 65 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israelis in that same time, of whom 38 were assailants killed while stabbing Israelis armed mainly with knives, while others were shot during violent anti-Israel protests. Many were teens.
But Abbas has accused Israel of extrajudicial killings and claimed that Palestinian deaths were unnecessary. The Palestinians have charged further that in other cases Israel simply targeted innocent people.
After the meeting with Bensouda, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the new dossier, the third he has submitted this year, contains evidence of “extrajudicial killing, home demolition, and collective punishment” including from the past 40 days. These included “examples of cases that have really occurred in the last 40 days of Israeli aggression against innocent Palestinians around occupied territory,” he told reporters at The Hague.
Israel, which is not a member of the court, has declined to cooperate with both this and a previous probe relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that Palestine is not a state and so has no right to join. It has prevented Hague officials from visiting the scene of the alleged crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.
Maliki said the ICC “promised that they would continue their efforts to get approval...
for a visit. We have already responded positively and we are still waiting for the same from the Israeli side,” Maliki said.
The court’s preliminary examinations, designed to establish if crimes within its jurisdiction may have been committed, are long, drawnout affairs, carried out independently by the court’s prosecutors.
Abbas’s meeting at the Hague caps a week in which he met with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and delivered his first address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Reuters contributed to this report.