Braving Israeli and American wrath, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda said on March 3 she has launched a formal inquiry into crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.
She emphasized in her statement that the inquiry will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.”
Both the Palestinian Authority as well as Hamas welcomed Ms. Bensouda’s statement while Israel predictably attacked it.
“Today, I confirm the initiation by the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of an investigation respecting the situation in Palestine,” Ms. Bensouda said.
In clarifying her brief, she said the probe will specifically look at allegations since June 13, 2014 just before Israel launched a vicious war on the tiny Gaza Strip that resulted in the killing of more than 2200 civilians, including 623 children.
While the ICC has named some members of Hamas also for investigation, the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement praised the ICC’s move.
“We welcome the ICC decision to investigate Israeli occupation war crimes against our people. It is a step forward on the path of achieving justice for the victims of our people,” Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Reuters news agency, as quoted by Al Jazeera.
In defending Hamas’ actions, Qassem said: “Our resistance is legitimate and it comes to defend our people. All international laws approve legitimate resistance.”
Omar Awadallah, head of the UN human rights department in the Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs, told Al Jazeerafrom Ramallah that Israeli officials should be concerned by the probe.
“We understand that Netanyahu and his war criminals should be afraid now from this important body and this important stance by the International Criminal Court,” Awadallah said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trotted out the old canard of anti-Semitism and declared the Zionist state was “under attack”.
“The ICC reached a decision which is the essence of anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu said in the video posted on Twitter.
The ICC chief prosecutor did not arrive at her decision in haste or without reasonable cause.
While she also named armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators, the thrust of her inquiry related to Israeli war crimes.
In December 2019, Ms. Bensouda determined at the end of her five-year probe into the “situation in Palestine,” that there was “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed” in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem regions.
While she believed the court had jurisdiction under the terms of the Rome Statute which established the ICC, to investigate possible war crimes in the area, she wanted a definitive rule.
Member states and independent experts were invited to weigh in on the matter as well.
A three-member pre-trial chamber of judges ruled February 5, 2021 that the court had the legal right to hear the case and that its mandate extended to Occupied Palestinian territories.
Based on this ruling, Ms. Bensouda made her March 3 announcement to proceed with her investigation.
While her term will end in June, the fact that she has taken this step augurs well for justice even if no Israeli officials—political or military—are captured and imprisoned.
In customary arrogance, the Zionist state’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement “Israel will take every step necessary to protect its civilians and soldiers from legal persecution.”
Ashkenazi is a retired general and is named as one of the accused in the war crimes probe.
If found guilty, at the very least, Ashkenazi and others of his ilk will find it difficult to travel to some European countries where they may be nabbed on war crimes charges.
While Ms. Bensouda and her team of prosecutors face many challenges, she said “such challenges… as daunting and complex as they are, cannot divert us from ultimately discharging the responsibilities that the Rome Statute places upon the Office [of the chief prosecutor].”
Part of the process will include determining whether Israel or Palestinian authorities have investigated themselves and to assess their standing from a legal point of view.
“In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides,” Bensouda said.
“My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized.”
Not surprisingly, there is much panic in Tel Aviv. Are the days of Israel’s impunity about to end?