Palestinians are celebrating the International Criminal Court decision that the body has jurisdiction over the situation in the Palestinian territories, despite Israel’s insistence to the contrary.
The precedent-setting ruling opens the way for an inquiry into allegations of Israeli, and Palestinian, war crimes in the region.
The ICC said in a statement issued on Friday that it had “decided, by majority, that the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, a State party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh praised the ICC decision.
“This decision is a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families,” Shtayyeh said, according to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.
Shtayyeh says the ICC ruling should send a “message to perpetrators” who “will not go unpunished.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticized the ICC ruling as “pure anti-Semitism,” calling it a contentious political move without valid legal basis.
Meanwhile, the US State Department expressed “serious concerns” about the decision, saying Israel should not be bound by the court since it is not a member. “We have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. We have always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or are referred by the UN Security Council,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked the court at the end of 2019 to confirm whether it has jurisdiction in the area.
Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian Al-Haq Institute for Human Rights based in Ramallah in the West Bank, told The Media Line that Palestinians have been waiting for this decision for a long time.
He says that the court ruling answers the “geographic” question of the investigation, and the “jurisdiction” of the court.
However, Jabarin doesn’t think the news is a huge victory for the Palestinians.
“No. In my opinion, this is part of the action steps. The importance of the decision is that it answered that the court has jurisdiction over lands occupied in 1967: east Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. The next step is to open an investigation,” he said.
With less than four months left in her term, Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, must decide whether to proceed with an investigation or leave the decision to her successor.
“It does not mean a great deal, but it may be affected in a temporal sense. There could be a delay, but I believe the investigation will be open soon,” said Jabarin.
There could be a delay, but I believe the investigation will be open soon
PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said that the ICC ruling “opens the door to the pursuit of criminal accountability for the most egregious crimes under the court’s mandate, which have been and continue to be committed against the Palestinian people.”
Malki said that he stands ready to cooperate with and extend all assistance to the court “during the investigation into Israeli crimes, which should start in order.”
The decision could also extend the investigation to the Palestinian side.
Jabarin says that it was clear from the first day that the court is not selective in its approach and it is not only going to pursue one party.
“The court will investigate all the allegations before it on the subject of committing international crimes such as a war crime or a crime against humanity,” he said.
He says the Palestinian side was not “ignorant” of this fact. And with the PA lacking a highly trained “professional institution in the field of the judiciary to address any allegations, perhaps the knife of the court will be sharper on the Palestinian side than others, as it is a weak party in the equation,” he added.
The court will investigate everything and will not exclude anyone, Jabarin says.
“If there is an allegation against the PA that it is torturing prisoners, this could be a major headline. The same applies to the issue of the resistance and the claim that it is targeting civilians with missiles,” he said.
Bensouda also has cited possible war crimes by Hamas, the Islamic group that governs Gaza, and other armed groups in the coastal enclave, for launching rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas of Israel and for using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Israel has led a blockade of Gaza since 2007, after Hamas seized control of Gaza.
The International Criminal Court’s decision to impose its jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories is a step in the right direction; it’s required to start taking practical steps to bring the Zionist war criminals to trial before international courts and to give our people justice
Abdel Latif Al-Qanoua, Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, told The Media Line that his group isn’t worried.
“We are not afraid of investigations and we seek justice for the victims who were killed by the Israeli occupation,” he said on Sunday.
Qanoua says his group welcomes the court decision, and that they urge the ICC to advance with its investigation.
“The International Criminal Court’s decision to impose its jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories is a step in the right direction; it’s required to start taking practical steps to bring the Zionist war criminals to trial before international courts and to give our people justice,” he said.