The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced plans for a formal investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the Palestinian territories, prompting an angry response from Israeli leaders.
Alleged war crimes by Palestinian militant groups like Hamas will also be investigated.
The investigation will look at events in the territories from June 13, 2014 onwards, and is expected to focus on the Gaza war fought between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, actions by the Israeli army during hostilities along the Gaza fence in 2018, as well as Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, according to a statement from the court’s chief prosecutor.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who steps down from the role in a few months, said it would be “conducted independently, impartially, and objectively, without fear or favor,” adding, “in the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”
Israel’s President issued a scathing response.
“The decision of the International Criminal Court at the Hague to commence investigations against the State of Israel is scandalous,” Reuven Rivlin said in a statement. “We will not accept claims against the exercise of our right and our obligation to defend our citizens. The State of Israel is a strong, Jewish and democratic state which knows how to defend itself and to investigate itself when necessary,”
By contrast, the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry welcomed the news. “This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve,” a ministry statement said.
Wednesday’s announcement follows a majority decision by a three-judge panel at the ICC in early February that the Court does have jurisdiction over the territories occupied by Israel. Israeli officials, speaking in a late-night briefing with journalists after that announcement, said they believed the Court was operating outside the scope of its mandate, questioning its de facto assertion that a Palestinian state exists under international law.
The officials argued that what they called the Palestinian entity does not have a fixed territory, because that was a “final status” issue that has not been agreed on by Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel itself is not a State-Party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC in 2002.