AT LONG last, Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has uttered the long-anticipated conclusion that ‘all the statutory criteria under the Rome statute for the opening of an investigation (into alleged war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories) have been met’.
Bensouda’s verdict has been in the making for a long time and should, frankly, have arrived much earlier. The ICC preliminary investigations into Israeli war crimes began back in 2015. Since then, many more such war crimes have been committed, while the international community persisted in its moral inertia.
The ICC statement, issued on December 20, asserted that the court saw ‘no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice’.
But can the ‘interest of justice’ be served while the United States government continues to wield a massive stick, using its diplomatic, political and financial clout to ensure Israel emerges unscathed from its latest legal scuffle?
There is little doubt that Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory, is absolutely right: A formal ICC criminal investigation into war crimes in Palestine is a ‘momentous step forward in the quest for accountability’.
He is also correct in his assessment, published in the United Nations Human Rights Officer of the High Commissioner website, that ‘accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action throughout the 52-year-old occupation’.
I would go even further and expand the timeline of the missing accountability to include the two decades prior to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, how is one to account for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48, the numerous massacres and other wanton killings that accompanied and followed those defining years, or the fact that Israel was never held accountable for its violations of international and humanitarian laws between 1948 and 1967?
That issue notwithstanding, the Palestinian Authority and all political parties in Palestine should exploit this unprecedented opportunity of holding Israel accountable.
As soon as the ICC issued its statement, news reports surfaced conveying a sense of ‘panic’ in Israel. The Times of Israel reported that an Israeli government meeting to discuss the ICC decision was held shortly after, with the aim of considering a proper response, including the possibility of preventing ICC investigators from reaching Israel.
This is eerily familiar. Israel has denied entry to – or refused to cooperate with – international investigators and observers on many occasions in the past.
Following a UN planned investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in 2002, the Israeli government quickly moved, and, sadly, succeeded in blocking the investigation altogether.
It has done so time and again, often demonising the very individuals entrusted with the mission of examining the illegality of Israel’s behaviour in the context of international law. Well-respected judges and international law experts, such as Richard Goldstone, Richard Falk, and John Dugard, were vehemently attacked by Israeli officials and media and, by extension, by the US government and media as well.
Israel has managed to survive dozens of United Nations Resolutions and countless legal reports and indictments by the UN and all UN-affiliated organisations, largely because of blind and unequivocal American support, which has shielded Israeli war criminals from ever answering to their horrific actions in Palestine.
Remember, it was (then-Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton who took pride in the fact that she personally killed the Goldstone Report,’ said US author, Norman Finkelstein, in a recent interview with the news website ‘Mondoweiss’.
The Goldstone report was issued in the wake of the Israeli war on Gaza in 2009, dubbed ‘Operation Cast Lead’. The campaign of intimidation and pressure on Goldstone, personally, has forced the once respected judge to retract his accusations of Israeli war crimes and the deliberate targeting of civilians.
While Clinton did her part in torpedoing the Goldstone Report, former US President, Barack Obama, according to Finkelstein, went to great lengths to ‘neutralise international law against settlements and other Israeli crimes in the occupied territories’.
Worse still, on September 14, 2016, Obama handed Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, himself accused of carrying out numerous war crimes against Palestinians, the largest US aid package to a foreign country in modern history, a whopping $38 billion over the course of ten years.
This is not a new phenomenon, where the US enables Israeli crimes and simultaneously shields Tel Aviv from any accountability for these crimes before the international community. All US administrations, whether Republican or Democrat, have honoured the same sinister maxim, thus ensuring Israel, literally, gets away with murder.
A particular case in point was in 2001, when 28 Palestinian and Lebanese survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre attempted to try, in a Belgian court, late Israeli leader and accused war criminal, Ariel Sharon. Intense American pressure and a brazen intimidation campaign, targeting the Belgian government and the judicial system, resulted in the dismissal of the case in 2003. To deny Israel’s victims the opportunity to seek justice everywhere in the country, Belgium revised its very law, to the satisfaction of Israel and the United States.
The high level of the ICC investigations places the legal push against Israel at a whole new level. This is uncharted territory for Israel, the United States, Palestine, the ICC and the international community as a whole. There is little doubt that some joint Israeli-American effort is already underway to develop strategies aimed at countering, if not altogether dismissing, the ICC investigation.
It is clear that justice for Palestinians in the face of Israeli aggression, itself fuelled by unconditional American support, is not at all possible if it is not accompanied by regional and international unity, and a clear and decisive decision by all parties concerned that Israel, once and for all, must pay for its military occupation, racist apartheid laws, protracted siege on Gaza, and the many massacres in between.
Without this kind of international will, the ICC investigation could become another sad case of justice denied, a non-acceptable option for any justice-seeking individual, organisation, and government anywhere in the world.
Baroud’s article concluded.
- Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian residents of Ras al-Ouja, north of the ancient city of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, woke up two days ago to the sound of heavily armed Israeli forces and trucks breaking into their neighbourhood. They came to demolish and remove the 71 homes located in that area and which housed several hundred Palestinians, mainly women and children.
The army sealed off the area and declared it a closed military zone off to anyone, including the press. The residents, those who were still in their homes and have not left them early that morning to go to work and were mainly the elderly, women and children, found themselves forced to face their occupiers alone, and they did.
The residents first refused to leave their doomed homes, which sheltered them and their children from the cold and rainy conditions. The soldiers tried to remove them by force, but the residents resisted. Others gathered to prevent the demolition of their homes and faced off the heavily armed soldiers with their bare hands and bodies. Some were injured in the melee that resulted and needed hospitalisation.
In the end, the resistance of the unarmed Palestinian civilians succeeded in stopping the army from removing all 71 homes, but not before demolishing and dismantling a shack, five homes and a shed for sheep and confiscating them.
‘The gathering of the people inside and outside their homes have foiled attempts to demolish all the homes that have received demolition orders and added up to 71 homes,’ said Ouja mayor, Salah Freijat.
According to attorney Mahmoud Ghawaneh, the Israeli measures against Ras al-Ouja and the demolition orders came after an Israeli settler known as Omer decided singlehandedly to raze land nearby in preparation to build an airport and a landing strip. Since then, he said, the army has intensified its measures against his community and its efforts to displace them at all costs with total disregard to the lives and welfare of its Palestinian residents.
Ismail Kharabsheh, also a resident of the community who was in charge of the Bedouin community in the Ministry of Local Government, said Israel wants the land in order to expand the nearby illegal Meviot Yericho settlement.
He said 400 people living in this community will become homeless if Israel proceed with its plans to displace them.
The Ras al-Ouja community is located in what is referred to as Area C, which makes up more than 60 percent of the area of the occupied West Bank and which is still under full Israeli military control. Palestinians are barred from developing or benefiting from it in any way while Jewish settlers are given free hand to do whatever they like in this area with the blessings of the Israeli government and military.
In its efforts to provide housing for some of the Ouja community, the municipality built the homes in Ras al-Ouja five months ago, funded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Maan Development Centre.
OCHA recently reported that Israel demolished 617 structures in the occupied West Bank in 2019 displacing 898 people.