International Criminal Court launches war crimes investigation of Israelis and Palestinian terrorists

Cnaan Liphshiz

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court said they have launched an investigation against Israelis for alleged war crimes against Palestinians.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the formal initiation of an investigation Wednesday into “the Situation in Palestine,” a statement said, dealing a blow to years of efforts by Israeli governments to avoid such a probe. The move gives the Palestinian Authority a victory in its attempts to bring about greater international scrutiny of Israeli actions in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

According to the statement, the investigation will cover crimes within the court’s jurisdiction that are alleged to have been committed since June 13, 2014.

The ICC has not identified individual suspects. In previous cases, the court has prosecuted high-ranking soldiers and politicians.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the Netherlands-based tribunal ruled that the court has jurisdiction to investigate Israelis and Palestinian terrorists, including from Hamas, for alleged crimes during the 2014 Gaza War because the Palestinian Authority may be considered a state in the context of the court, The Associated Press reported.

The ICC has been examining a case brought by the Palestinian Authority since 2015 and Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, has said that her preliminary probe into the request to open a case indicated war crimes had occurred.

Israel both dismissed the allegation and contested the court’s jurisdiction, arguing the court is not certified to investigate Israeli actions because it is among the dozens of countries that have not agreed to grant the court jurisdiction on their territory. The Palestinian Authority, Israel argued, was beyond the court’s jurisdiction as well since it is not a member state of the United Nations.

The ICC, which is based in The Hague, “only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2019.

On Feb. 5, however, a three-judge panel determined that Palestine qualifies as a state. One of the judges dissented.

The International Criminal Court, which is not part of the United Nations, was established in 2002 by dozens of U.N. member states that signed and ratified the Rome Statute. The statute gives the court a mandate to bring to trial individuals — but not countries or organizations — who are alleged to have committed genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes but have evaded justice because the relevant judiciaries in their home countries are unable or unwilling to duly prosecute them.

Israel has contested an investigation into the activities of its citizens also because it has a functioning judiciary.

Individuals convicted of war crimes by the ICC are subject to warrants for their arrest by signatory countries.