Palestine's accession to ICC worries Israel
Gaza still to come out of the devastating attack by Israel
Israel did not seriously expect that Palestine would move at the speed it did to obtain ICC membership status. It has caused grave worries for Israeli politicians who fear they could be held anywhere to be investigated.
None of them have forgotten how Pinochet was held in the UK a decade or so ago for his crimes against the Chilean people during his barbaric dictatorship. Nor have they erased from their minds how the then Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni avoided the possibility of prosecution in a British court for war crimes in 2011. She was granted immunity by the UK because the Foreign Office declared that she enjoys temporary diplomatic immunity. It was a mere touch and go then because the director of public prosecutions was actively entertaining a private application for a warrant to arrest the former foreign minister during her visit to London. The decision to grant her impunity infuriated Palestinian activists and human rights groups. Livni’s arrest was being sought. Earlier in 2009, an arrest warrant had been issued for Livni on the grounds she had been a member of the Israeli war cabinet that sanctioned the assault on Gaza in which more than a thousand Palestinians were killed. At that juncture she put off her visit.
The private prosecution application had been made on behalf of an unnamed Palestinian police officer whose brother, also a police officer, was killed during the first day of the attack on Gaza in 2008. When the Livni episode gained notoriety in the international media, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights had said: "The government has abused the law in order to ensure that Ms Livni escapes accountability. Ms Livni is not a member of the Israeli government, but the leader of the opposition. This action exhibits a serious and worrying disregard for the rule of law, and appears to be in violation of the UK's international obligations."
Even though the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague claimed that "The UK will continue to honour our international obligations and make sure that people who have committed some of the most awful crimes – wherever in the world they took place – can be brought to justice in our courts," they reneged on that promise and, instead, offered impunity!
With Palestine’s accession to the ICC, things have changed and the mood in Israel is palpable. Israel is only too aware that they have violated far too many laws and stand guilty of war crimes. Statements from senior cabinet Ministers are desperately angry. They won’t allow their soldiers to be tried, they have sworn. They know that the hype they create is not any substitute for the rule of law.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has welcomes the beginning of a first round assessment of the situation in Palestine by the Prosecutor. Palestinians deem this an essential and constructive step towards achieving justice and ensuring respect for international law.
The State of Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute to guarantee that serious crimes, notably war crimes and crimes against humanity do not go unpunished. They argue that that the principle of accountability is one of the cornerstones of justice, whose achievement is indispensable to the cause of peace.
In the last few years alone, thousands, mostly civilians have been killed. In the most recent aggression in Gaza, over 2000 were killed and hundreds of thousands were severely displaced. The international community has pledged generous reconstruction funds but few have delivered. It has left Gaza’s population vulnerable and severely disadvantaged. In the current situation, ice-cold conditions are causing deaths because of insufficient protection especially to the elderly and children. Those who promised and failed to deliver humanitarian assistance must also be seen complicit in the crime of protecting the weak and oppressed.
The crimes against humanity in Palestinian territories go beyond and even before the Gaza war. The Gaza war is the most obvious and arrogant act of violence and the atrocities stemming there from are there for everyone to see. Serious violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity also emanate from constant settlement expansion all the way through the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. The Palestinian hope is that in joining the ICC, they will finally be able to book the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. It is the Palestinian way to pay tribute to those who were killed and whose lives were decimated. At the same time they view the ICC as a serious deterrent to Israeli obduracy and, thus, are able to shield other Palestinians from becoming victims in the future.
Xavier Abu Eid, a communications Advisor to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department states: “The impunity enjoyed by Israel, the Occupying power, has allowed it to persevere in its systematic and blatant breach of international law as well as violations of Palestinian rights. Ending this impunity is an important contribution to upholding universal values, ensuring accountability, and achieving peace. In this regard, States also have a standing legal and moral obligation to respect and ensure respect for international law, and need to act to ensure an end to Israeli violations of international law, and an end to the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian Authority has pledged its own total support to the proceedings of the International Criminal Court to serve the cause of justice and the law as well as the dignity of all members of the human family.
At the level of civil society, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a US based organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change declared : “With the move to grant the ICC jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Palestine, a new door is open to hold Israeli officials accountable for the serious violations committed against Palestinians. This is one avenue the United States cannot block. U.S. and Israeli efforts to keep Palestine from accepting both the protections and responsibilities of the ICC – a court neither country will join – have failed. We hope this marks the end of the era of Israeli impunity and U.S. complicity.” There has been a prolonged campaign involving human rights organizations in Palestine who have worked non-violently and within the confines of international law for justice.
Still, Israel and the USA responded predictably. Israel froze $127.6 million in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and vowed more punitive actions. The US State Department called the Palestinian move to join the ICC “counterproductive.” The hawks in Congress and the Senate want a bill to stop US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinians withdraw their ICC bid
Pax Christi USA has countered this move and is campaigning for US support to such non-violent means of pursuing justice rather than punish the Palestinians for moves to sign treaties and conventions. Indeed, the entire community should salute the Palestinians for their exceptional restraint despite grave provocations and callous killing and destruction sprees by Israel.