The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague may open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. That‘s what a preliminary chamber of three judges at the Criminal Court decided today.
This decision opens the way for an investigation into possible crimes that Israel and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas have committed since 2014 on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip.
The prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, said in December 2019 that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in those areas. She mentioned, among other things, actions during the Gaza War of 2014 and Israeli policy to build settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. She reported both the Israeli armed forces and the terrorist movement Hamas as possible perpetrators.
But before making an investigation, the prosecution first asked for a judgement from the judges whether the situation falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC or not. In a majority ruling published this evening, the judges say so. So this opens the way for an investigation by the prosecution.
The fact that the status of the Palestinian territories is still uncertain under international law does not matter, according to a majority of judges.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded quickly to the decision. According to him, “the Criminal Court ignores real war crimes and pursues Israel instead”. He added that Israel will protect its civilians and soldiers from persecution. Israel does not recognise the authority of the Criminal Court.
The Palestinian minister Hussein al-Sheikh, on the other hand, called the decision “a victory for rights, justice, freedom and moral values in the world”. The Palestinian authorities indicated their intention to cooperate in a possible investigation. A Hamas spokesman also welcomed the decision.
The ICC has the power to investigate war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the more than 100 countries that are members of the court. Israel is not, but since 2015, the Criminal Court has recognised Palestine as a member.
Nor does the United States recognise the Criminal Court. A spokesman for the US Department of State today announced “serious concerns” about the judges’ decision to allow an investigation into Israeli officials.