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ISRAEL - PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Palestinians to submit first case against Israel to ICC

Mahmud Hams, AFP | The aftermath of an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014

The Palestinian Authority will submit its first case files to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday detailing alleged Israeli war crimes committed during last summer’s conflict in the Gaza Strip.

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The move comes after the Palestinian Authority became an official member of the ICC on April 1, paving the way for it to pursue cases against Israel at the international court.

The two case files, which are each dozens of pages long, will be handed to the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who opened a preliminary examination into the “Palestinian situation” in January. The files will focus mainly on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which was launched on July 7, 2014, in the Gaza Strip.

More than 2,100 Palestinians – mostly civilians – were killed in the 50-day conflict, which also claimed the lives of 73 Israelis.

“[It] will be purely general, purely statistical,” Ramallah Ammar Hijazi, a Palestinian foreign affairs official, said of the case in comments to AFP.

The Israeli operation was officially aimed at destroying Hamas’s tunnel network, noted FRANCE 24 journalist Gauthier Rybinksi. “Later, there were testimonies from Israeli soldiers who said that that they found themselves caught in a maelstrom of commanders, each one more hysterical than the last, who ordered them, for example, to fire on civilians who came within 10 metres of them," Rybinksi said. "In the eyes of the Palestinian Authority, such acts constitute war crimes.”

The files will also address other issues related to the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories. Although the ICC is officially only looking into alleged crimes committed since the summer of 2014, earlier cases also fall within the court’s jurisdiction, according to Eric David, a law professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles (the Free University of Brussels).

“Even if the occupation dates back to 1967, it’s an ongoing offense. Creating a colony and then transferring a part of its population to occupied territory is a war crime,” David said.

Prosecution of Israeli leaders?

The Palestinian Authority hopes that the files will convince the ICC’s Bensouda to open an official investigation.

“If she judges that there is evidence that clearly shows war crimes or crimes against humanity have been committed against Palestine, the court is ipso facto within its rights to open an investigation and eventually prosecute,” law professor David told FRANCE 24.

If Bensouda decides that there are sufficient grounds to prosecute Israeli leaders, an international arrest warrant could be issued in their names. This would mean that all 123 member countries of the ICC would be obliged to detain and extradite those concerned to the court.

“It doesn’t always work,” David said. “In the recent case of [Sudanese President] Omar al-Bashir, we saw him wander around freely in South Africa, which is [an ICC] member country.” The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009.

The Palestinian Authority’s recent membership in the ICC also means that Palestinians, including those belonging to the militant group Hamas, are now subject to investigation as well.

“We can’t exclude the possibility that the prosecutor, in an effort to demonstrate that she is completely impartial, might open a case against certain Palestinians who could be held liable for firing Qassam rockets on villages neighbouring the Gaza Strip,” said David. “If you take the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, they didn’t only prosecute Serbians, but Bosnian Muslims, Croatians and Kosovars too.”

It is unlikely, however, that the ICC will announce a decision in the case any time soon.

“[It will probably take] years,” David explained. “The court moves at a snail’s pace. Staff is limited, as are financial resources. It’s not possible for it to take on all the cases it should and it doesn’t have the ability to carry out all the investigations it has on its desk.”

A United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on last summer’s conflict in Gaza found that it was likely that both Israel and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes. The commission published a report on June 22 that noted that Israel did not change tactics during Operation Protective Edge despite widespread civilian casualties and destruction, raising the question of whether responsibility for abuses lies with the country’s leadership.

The report also said that Palestinian militants sought to sow terror among Israeli civilians by indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets across the border.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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