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Fire burning in a scorched wheat field near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza strip, caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinians across the border. (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s Public Relations Chess Game At The International Criminal Court

Following PA’s complaint at The Hague-based court, Shurat HaDin plays a counter-move

Shurat HaDin’s filing of a complaint against Hamas leaders with the International Criminal Court at The Hague (ICC), citing the recent “kite terror” campaign which caused millions of dollars of damage to agricultural land in Israel’s south, is the counter to the official Palestinian complaint brought to the same court in May against Israel, according to experts and the president of Shurat HaDin.

The complaint filed at The Hague accuses three of Hamas’ leaders of war crimes, and was drafted on behalf of four farmers and co-signed by 50,000 individuals worldwide.

When contacted by The Media Line, a representative of the ICC explained that the complaint had not yet formally been received, a situation Shurat Hadin attributed to the file being so large that it is taking longer than normal to process.

Ofer Liberman, the manager of agriculture at Kibbutz Nir Am, who was named in the complaint, described his community to The Media Line as an expanding green haven replete with an orchard and a forest planted by residents in 1943, which had suffered considerable damage from incendiary kites and helium balloons launched by Gaza-based Palestinians.

In May, the Palestinian Authority, which has been a member of the ICC since 2014, filed a request for investigation into alleged Israeli policies and violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. This is in addition to a separate claim in 2015 which is still in the process of being probed.

The situation is complicated because Israel does not recognize Palestine as a state, meaning it does not believe the ICC has the jurisdiction to investigate Ramallah’s complaints. Furthermore, Israel is not a member of the ICC.

Because Shurat HaDin agrees the ICC has no jurisdiction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it named in its complaint Jordanian Hamas leaders.

“Once the Palestinians are in the court you can’t leave that stage open and neglect the other side, because the Palestinians and Hamas leaders are committing pure war crimes,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, President of Shurat HaDin, affirmed to The Media Line.

Professor of International Law at The Hebrew University Robbie Sabel, contends that the filings are more about influencing geopolitics than enforceable outcomes.

“It’s the counter-move to continuing Palestinian attempts to have Israeli nationals indicted,” he stressed to The Media Line. “The whole exercise is public relations” as the PA’s filing was part of a smear campaign against Israel.

Darshan-Leitner explained that Shurat HaDin’s complaint was not only a response to the PA’s current suit but also to the court’s unusual step of interviewing “victims” before even accepting the Palestinians’ earlier claim.

Kibbutz Nir Am’s Liberman detailed some of the damage resulting from the incendiary devices, including fields of wheat turned to ash, a massive loss in cow grain and in irrigation equipment.

“Most of the damage our government paid back, but you know there is damage that you cannot restore through money,” he conveyed.

One of the areas ignited by the kites and balloons was the 75-year-old forest around the kibbutz. “This damage? You cannot fix it,” Liberman noted sadly.

Israel’s war crimes allegations expand beyond damaged property, according to Darshan-Leitner. “The helium balloons and the flaming kites’ purpose was not initially to burn the fields—it was to harm Israeli citizens.”

Shurat HaDin’s claim therefore details efforts to directly attack Israeli citizens and not soldiers.

Under international law, attacking citizens in a conflict is a war crime, a crime the PA has also levied against Israel. Therefore, professor Sabel said it was appropriate that Hamas was being accused of the same crimes they had publicly lobbed at Israel.

Sabel qualified, however, that he could not understand why the ICC would agree to hear such a complicated case without some political motivation.

“Is Gaza part of the Palestinian state? [Is it] within the jurisdiction of Palestine? [These are] all the sorts of political questions which I assume the court won’t want to go into.”

Darshan-Leitner believes the ICC’s ultimate acceptance of Shurat HaDin’s claim is more about a balancing act.

“I think if the ICC wants to look objective and…unbiased, and if they want to show the world that they are not against Israelis but they’re really into investigating the conflict, they will accept our complaint,” she concluded.

(Jinitzail Hernandez is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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