On Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it has jurisdiction in Palestine, clearing its chief prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities despite intense Israeli objections.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, previously announced she intends to open a formal inquiry into alleged war crimes in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
However, due to Palestine’s status as an occupied territory rather than a sovereign country, she was waiting for judges to “confirm” if the court, headquartered in The Hague, had the authority.
Bensouda, who is a Gambian lawyer mentioned she would investigate both the Israeli military as well as Palestinian armed groups, including the Gaza-based Hamas faction, which have been accused of “intentionally directing attacks against civilians”, according to her office.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rebuked the ruling and said the country would “protect our citizens and soldiers in every way from legal persecution”.
“Today the court proved once again that it is a political body and not a judicial institution,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement.
“The court ignores real war crimes and instead persecutes the state of Israel, a state with a firm democratic regime, which sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the court.”
The Israeli government has argued that as Palestine is not a fully-fledged state, it should not be allowed to petition the court.
While Israel is not a member of the court, the Palestinians joined in 2015 and asked for the I.C.C. inquiry and in a statement released on Friday, ICC judges announced the court did, in fact, have jurisdiction.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs minister, said on Twitter that the ruling was “a victory for rights, justice, freedom and moral values in the world”. It rejected Israel’s arguments, stating that Palestine had “the right to be treated as any other state party” to its statute.
Netanyahu previously called for sanctions against the court and the people who work for it. Donald Trump’s administration used a similar tactic to block a separate deserted ICC investigation into the conduct of US troops in Afghanistan.
While Joe Biden’s administration says it disagrees with ICC action against Israel, it says it is reviewing those sanctions, a move that worries Israel. The US state department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “serious concerns” over Friday’s ICC ruling.
The case could also be extended to include the alleged killings by Israeli soldiers of more than 200 Palestinians, including more than 40 children, at marches along the Gaza frontier.
Under the Geneva convention, signed after the second world war, the transfer of civilians into occupied land is forbidden.