JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel will formally reject the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to open an investigation into alleged war crimes, claiming it did not commit such crimes against Palestinians and saying the court lacks the jurisdiction to investigate.
In February, a panel of ICC judges ruled that the court has the jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians. After that ruling, the court sent an official notice to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, giving them a month to seek deferral of the court’s probe.
Israel could have argued that it is capable of investigating and prosecuting violations on its own, potentially deferring or even canceling the ICC's investigation.
However, Israel decided to instead reject the court’s claim that it has the authority to investigate it.
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"In addition to totally rejecting the claim that Israel commits war crimes, Israel reiterates its unequivocal position that the Hague Tribunal has no authority to open an investigation against it,” the government said in a statement, detailing a letter it plans to send to the ICC.
“Israel is committed to the rule of law and will continue to investigate any charges against it regardless of the source, and it expects the tribunal to refrain from violating its authority and sovereignty," the statement said.
The ICC’s investigation will largely center on allegations of war crimes committed during Israel’s war with Gaza in 2014.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda believes there is evidence that Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip violated international law by intentionally attacking Israeli civilians, using human shields, torturing political rivals, and depriving individuals of the right to a fair trial.
Bensouda believes Israel may have violated the law through intentional or disproportionate attacks on Palestinian civilians and medical targets during the 2014 war and during Israel’s response to the 2018 weekly border riots.
She also raises concerns about Israel’s campaign to expand settlements in the West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria – and eastern Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers these settlements as the illegal occupation of disputed territory whose status should be decided through peace talks.
Israel captured this territory during the Six-Day War in 1967. Today, more than 700,000 Israeli settlers live there. International law prohibits the transfer of civilians to what it considers to be occupied territory.
Israel is not a member of the court and says the ICC does not have the right to investigate alleged crimes because the Palestinians do not have a state or defined borders. The Palestinians, however, have nonmemberstatus in the UN General Assembly, granting them the right to join international organizations like the ICC.
The ICC prosecutes leaders, not entire governments. Therefore, after her investigation, Bensouda could hypothetically charge Israeli and Palestinian leaders with committing alleged war crimes. If they are convicted by the court, the ICC could issue international arrest warrants for Israeli or Hamas leaders upon travel abroad. That means any of the 123 ICC member states are obligated to arrest these convicted leaders if they are caught in their countries.