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International Criminal Court probing alleged Israeli crimes in Palestinian territories

International Criminal Court probing alleged Israeli crimes in Palestinian territories
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The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced Wednesday that she will oversee an investigation into alleged crimes Israel has perpetrated in Palestinian territories. 

Fatou Bensouda said she will investigate “crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed” since June 13, 2014. She did not detail precisely which allegations will be probed.

“Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour,” she said.

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The investigation follows a “painstaking” preliminary examination under Bensouda’s office over nearly the last five years. After engaging with various parties involved, including the governments of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the ICC decided that its probe would cover alleged crimes committed in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Jerusalem.

Bensouda said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to investigate the actions of Israel’s military in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, and she said Wednesday that there are “admissible potential cases.”

The ICC investigation will thrust the body into one of the world’s most intractable and politically charged conflicts, a solution to which has remained elusive since Israel’s creation in 1947.

The Palestinians first joined the ICC in 2015 and have since pressed the body to investigate Israel, which is not a member nation. The focus of the Palestinian calls has been actions by Israel during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip and expanded settlement construction in the West Bank, which the Palestinians say hinders their ability to one day create a state of their own.

Israel has maintained that its military actions were taken in self-defense and that the Palestinians do not have standing to call for a probe since they are not an independent sovereign state.

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The ICC did not lay out any specific allegations on which it will focus.

“How the Office will set priorities concerning the investigation will be determined in due time, in light of the operational challenges we confront from the pandemic, the limited resources we have available to us, and our current heavy workload. Such challenges, however, as daunting and complex as they are, cannot divert us from ultimately discharging the responsibilities” placed on the ICC, Bensouda said.

Bensouda took pains to assure stakeholders that her probe is not politically motivated, maintaining the ICC’s decision to authorize an investigation was not made to “[determine] whether Palestine fulfilled the requirements of statehood under public international law, or [adjudicate] a border dispute, or [prejudge] the question of any future borders.” 

“Investigations take time and they must be grounded objectively in facts and law. In discharging its responsibilities, my Office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized,” she said, noting that in 2017 she declined to take up an investigation into allegations made about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces. 

Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE came out swinging against the investigation, calling it “absurd.”

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“It’s undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy,” Netanyahu said in a video. “Without any jurisdiction, it decided that our brave soldiers, who take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties against the worst terrorists in the world who deliberately target civilians, it's our soldiers who are war criminals.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, touted the ICC’s announcement as “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability.”

“The State of Palestine reminds the Prosecutor and States Parties that the crimes committed by officials of the occupying Power against the Palestinian people are ongoing, systematic, and widespread,” the ministry said in a statement. “[T]his calls for a particular urgency to promptly conclude investigations into these crimes, to ensure accountability, promote deterrence, and save lives.”