Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan on Monday initiated the process of issuing arrest warrants against Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoev Gallant, president and defence minister of the Israeli occupation in Palestine, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Palestinian territory “from at least 8 October” last year.

He also applied for arrest warrants against three leaders of the Palestinian resistance faction Hamas – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh – accusing them of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant to be assessed by a pre-trial chamber of the court include the following war crimes:

– Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare

– Wilfully causing great suffering, serious injury to body or health, or cruel treatment

– Wilful killing or murder

– Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population

And the following crimes against humanity:

– Extermination and/or murder, including in the context of deaths caused by starvation

– Persecution

– Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.

In response to the announcement, Israeli occupation human rights organisation B’tselem wrote:

“The era of impunity for Israeli decision-makers is over… The international community is signaling to Israel that it can no longer maintain its policy of violence, killing and destruction without accountability. Likewise, the request for arrest warrants against Hamas leaders for the crimes of October 7 is important and draws a red line where harm to civilians is concerned.

“Given the escalating violence, it is our duty to state clearly: the Israeli regime that controls the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea cannot, and does not want to, investigate its crimes against the Palestinians. For decades, Israel has used its domestic law enforcement system as a whitewash mechanism to deflect international criticism…

“The Israeli violence directed at Palestinians to perpetuate the occupation is state violence and is inherent to the Israeli apartheid regime. This is true in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip and everywhere else. The ICC intervention and ICJ rulings are a chance for us, Israelis, to realize what we should have understood long ago: that upholding a regime of supremacy, violence and oppression necessarily involves crimes and severe violation of human rights.

“We call on the international community to act urgently to bring about a ceasefire and a deal for the release of all the hostages, in order to stop the bloodshed and humanitarian catastrophe.”

Palestinian civil society organisations including the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights jointly stated that the applications for arrest warrants were “a crucial step” and that more needed to be done by the ICC.

“Following tireless efforts by Palestinian and international civil society organisations demanding the issuance of arrest warrants, the applications filed by the Prosecutor are a crucial step towards ensuring justice and accountability for victims… Israeli policy makers continue to deny and restrict access to life-sustaining aid into Gaza, targeting Palestinians seeking aid as well as humanitarian relief operations, further aggravating the scale and speed of death in Gaza, which is unparalleled in the history of 21st century conflicts.”

They urged that the crime of genocide also be included in the list of charges to be heard by the court.

Emphasising that Israeli crimes against Palestinians “certainly did not begin on 8 October 2023” they drew attention to their earlier court filings on “the illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; the 17-year-old closure of Gaza; the 2014 and 2021 military offensives on Gaza; and crimes committed during Gaza’s Great March of Return, amongst others.”

They said that arrest warrants are also “needed against all members of the Israeli war cabinet — particularly those with decision-making powers, which include Minister Benny Gantz — and against those who carry out their orders, including Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli military and Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Further arrest warrants should be issued against members of the Israeli government involved in planning and ordering the commission of international crimes against the Palestinian people, including the Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel Katz.”

They said that individuals implicated in international crimes of atrocity against Palestinian detainees inside Israeli prisons include “Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security, Katy Perry, former Chief Commissioner of the Israel Prison Service, and Ronen Bar, head of Israel Security Agency.”

They reminded the court of its own advisory opinion that there is no right of self-defence against non-state actors in occupied territory. “Israel must withdraw immediately, totally and unconditionally from the Palestinian territory, and its settler-colonial apartheid regime must be dismantled.”

They urged the court to proceed “with urgency. In remembrance of more than 45,000 Palestinians killed by Israel amid nearly a decade of Court inaction.”

United States president “Genocide Joe” Biden called the ICC prosecutor’s decision “outrageous” and said that what’s happening in Gaza “is not genocide.”

“Bilal Jadallah, 45 years old, a journalist, the director of the Press House, and the head of the Cultural Salon, was martyred while he was evacuating to the south to join his family in Khan Yunis, who had evacuated before him. Jadallah played a significant role in supporting journalists and in training and graduating professionals capable of conveying the truth, and continuing this journey under the difficult, complex, and harsh conditions that the Gaza Strip constantly experiences. He also linked journalism with culture and heritage, activating its role in supporting intellectuals and creators, and founded the Cultural Salon to discuss cultural issues and initiatives.

Tala Mohamed Balousha, 17 years old, a creative and a member of the Asayel Watan Folk Dance Group, was martyred along with her mother after her family had been martyred during the bombardment of Gaza, and many mourned her loss.

The artist Halima Abdul Karim Al-Kahlout, 29 years old, was martyred in October. Her friends affectionately called her “The Fruit of Workshops” due to her constant cheerfulness and spontaneity. Her latest exhibition, titled “Fragments of the City,” was held last summer alongside other artists. She became a part of these fragments and pieces and was martyred.

The writer Abdullah Al-Aqad, along with his wife and children, was martyred in the shelling that targeted his home in Khan Yunis. His last post on his social media account was: “No more displacement from today, salute to the young people of the Shati camp and Al-Jalaa who came out by the thousands to pledge to stay in their neighborhoods no matter the cost.”

The visual artist Nesma Abu Sha’ira (36 years old) was martyred in October. She was a lecturer and head of the Fine Arts Department at Al-Aqsa University. One of her most famous paintings depicted an olive tree with roots extending across the entire globe.”

From the fourth Preliminary Report on Cultural Sector Damage in Gaza, Ministry of Culture, Palestine

Palestinians celebrate after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal in Deir al Balah, Gaza on May 6 / Ali Jadallah

Cover photo Samar Abu Elouf