ICC Can and Should Investigate Israeli Officials for Possible War Crimes in Gaza

Israel’s month-long military barrage of Gaza known as "Protective Edge" included numerous attacks on civilian-populated sites, including on homes, hospitals, mosques, markets and United Nation (UN) schools-turned-shelters. To date, Israel’s assault has killed at least 1,300 Palestinian civilians, including over 400 children, and injured more than 10,000. An estimated half a million people have been displaced. Upwards of 10,000 homes have been destroyed and countless others partially damaged. Strikes on some of the abovementioned sites have prompted international calls for officials of Israel’s government to be investigated for possible war crimes in Gaza.

Referring to the deadly July 30 attack on a UN school, the human rights organization Amnesty International argued that "If the strike on this school was the result of Israeli artillery fire it would constitute an indiscriminate attack and a likely war crime." On August 7, citing "mounting evidence" that Israel engaged in “apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza" which "left six medics dead" and injured many more, Amnesty International called for an "immediate investigation." The organization also published “disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel” which detailed "harrowing" lifesaving efforts of medical personnel faced with an "utterly impossible situation" of working "with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues." Military attacks of this sort, according to Amnesty International, "are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes" and "only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court."

In a recent statement to the UN General Assembly, Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN Agency providing assistance and protection to five million Palestine refugees, underscored the losses suffered: "the conflict did not spare UNRWA installations and staff." Summarizing the destruction, the Commissioner added: "Ninety of our premises have been damaged. Six of our schools were hit directly by shelling or affected by rocket fire in their immediate vicinity, with serious loss of life and injuries." The UNRWA, explained the Commissioner, has "condemned such military actions by Israel explicitly and unreservedly" and "cannot comprehend why they occurred, and even less why they happened so repeatedly." Moreover, the UNRWA has "asked for investigations to be carried out and for accountability." The Commissioner acknowledged his agency had found some unused schools being used by Hamas for weapons storage. However, as a result of UNRWA inspection work and a "clear and deliberate" information sharing campaign, people on the ground as well as world governments were aware of the nature and location of these sites.

The international body tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the most serious crimes are punished is the International Criminal Court (aka "the ICC" or "the Court"). Founded in 2002 under the Rome Statute, an international treaty, and based in The Hague, the Netherlands, the ICC is an autonomous, permanent court established to investigate, prosecute and try individuals (e.g., high-level government officials) accused of crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. As of May 2013, the Rome Statute has been ratified by 122 countries, not including the United States or Israel.

According to the Court’s website, while the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals were established to prosecute the atrocities committed during World War II, many violations of international law during the 20th century went unpunished. And while the UN General Assembly proposed a permanent international court in 1948 and again after the Cold War, it was not until the 1990s that serious negotiations took place to create such a court. By this time, crimes against humanity were being committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. The Court is currently conducting investigations on crimes allegedly committed in eight states, including Sudan (for the situation in Darfur), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Libya. In addition, preliminary analyses that may lead to investigations are ongoing in eight situations, including Afghanistan, the Republic of Korea, Honduras and Nigeria.

Some have argued that the ICC does not have jurisdiction in Gaza because Palestine is not a signatory to the Roman Statute. Others believe the ICC does have jurisdiction despite this fact. In an article published by the Guardian newspaper on August 8, the Bar Human Rights Committee(BHRC) of England and Whales outlined two main reasons why the ICC does indeed have jurisdiction in this case: "the United Nations general assembly’s decision to grant Palestine observer-state status means the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes" and "a 2009 declaration submitted by the Government of Palestine, accepting the jurisdiction of the court, provides the prosecutor with the jurisdictional basis to initiate an investigation." While this approach can serve as a potential path forward for the ICC to open an investigation, the BHRC points out that it "continues strongly to encourage Palestine’s ratification of the Rome Statute as the most straightforward basis for ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory."

Israel is already attempting to recruit supporters to stave off an ICC investigation of its leaders. Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, turned to allies in US Congress for a pledge of support. Regardless of the efforts of Israel or its closest ally, the United States, to prevent the ICC from seeking justice for the Palestinians and international aid workers killed and wounded in Gaza, the Court has a duty to at least open an investigation. The credibility of the ICC hangs in the balance. No individual who violates international law should escape justice. If Israeli officials are not investigated for possible war crimes in Gaza, then the tragic lessons learned from the last century about failures in international criminal justice and the consequences of inaction will have been in vain.

Brian J. Trautman is a military veteran, an instructor of peace studies at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, and a peace activist. On Twitter @BriTraut.

21 thoughts on “ICC Can and Should Investigate Israeli Officials for Possible War Crimes in Gaza”

  1. The ICC has no credibility when it comes to Israel, I wouldn't hold my breath for them to convict Israel of war crimes.

  2. Using this logic, shouldn't Hamas also stand trial for lobbing 2400 rockets at Israeli population centers, for building an infrastructure of war and starting a war while making no provision to protect their own people, and for prioritizing a war machine over civilian infrastructure? Why is only Israel at fault?

    1. Because this "case" you're trying to make is all based on Israeli propaganda. Israel used the kidnapping and murder of three young Israelis to charge that "Hamas did it," a lie refuted by two separate wings of the Israeli National Police, who maintained its honor as the Netanyahus, Liebermans, and Bennett were casually tossing theirs away. For Israel nothing is ever lost save honor.

  3. The Clinton Admin signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but it was never ratified. The Bush admin "unsigned" the treaty in 2002 – possibly anticipating world reaction to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was being planned "with the facts and evidence being fixed around the policy" almost from the moment Bush II took office. http://www.globalissues.org/article/490/united-st

    While the ICC may be able to investigate and prosecute US and Israeli war crimes, and many of us hope they will, the ICC has no way to enforce their decisions. The USG has made specific agreements with various nations that no US official will be held or extradited for ICC proceedings, and Israel scoffs at international law on a regular basis.

    A minor point: "England and Whales" should be England and Wales.

  4. ACTION is LOUDER THAN WORDS!! Get started PRONTO!! If nothing is done, Israel will keep on with the murdering and massacres of innocents, because they know that they can get away with it!!! Our country [US] also should be tried, they supplied the weapons!!

  5. ICC stands for international criminal court, it was created to prosecute the criminals committing crimes against humanity, war crime and etc. Thus far ICC have managed to prosecute those who were not that guilty but not the real guilty one, like Tony Blair, for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Iraq, like Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright for the same atrocities, like George W. Bush and his staff of Neo fascism killing millions of Iraqi people.

    ICC is the UN department of justice, United Nations was built to create a United Nations from this world, where western "civilized" political and economical system have managed to sabotage this unity because it is them thinking that they are the United Nations and no other nations have the right to prosecute their brutality and act against humanity when they bomb other nations. To these system there is only one nation and its them in this world, therefore world belong to them. The new world order was established just for their saying and acting upon it.

  6. Those regimes who are not the signatory of the treaty, they know who they are, they are the criminals running away from justice, afraid of being a just system and afraid of losing their international prestige when they know that they have lost it long time ago.

  7. Just to clarify, ICC we are discussing here stands for international criminal court

    What ever happening in Gaza is really horrible and scary. This war killed 1,300 Palestinian civilians, which includes 400 children approximately, this is really sad, people must understand value of human lives and must stop doing such wars.

    1. The 1300 includes 400 fighting aged men assumed to be Hamas, and another 400 that are Hamas.
      Incredibly the casualties are overwhelmingly male, which blows holes in the theory of indiscriminate bombing.

      1. I don't know where the 1300 figure came from. The estimates of Palestinian dead is closer to 2,000.

  8. I didn't know Nutty yahoo was squirming. I'd like to see him squirm along with the Hillbilly Clintons, Ehud Barack Obama, George Warmonger Bush, Tony Blair Witch Project etc. If they were proxecuted, they'd spend the rest of their lives squirming.

  9. If Israel and its partner in crime[ US] are not prosecuted for their murderous crimes, then one might as well let all hell break loose-let people start killing each other and call it 'fair game'!!! In other words make murder and massacres legit- thats precisely what Israel wants!!! To think that over 80% of the people of Israel approve of all this 'blood and gore' on the Palestinian people——how sad and pathetic these people are including those in the US that approve of this!
    Palestine stay strong —don;t give in to the bast—s!!! God bless

  10. The ICC is a friggin’ travesty. You’ll notice that it only goes after small, Third World countries. It overlooks the big international criminals–namely, the U.S. and its “51st state,” Israel.

  11. Dear Partner,

    Yes, it should! And this too!

    Since the United Nations determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity, there is no longer a need for plebiscites. The solution is to give Puerto Rico her sovereignty.

    But being the United States government does not want to, it continues to advocate the use of plebiscites to find out what Puerto Ricans want. Even if 100% of Puerto Ricans would want to continue being a US colony, Puerto Rico would still be obligated to accept her sovereignty to then decide what she wants to do.

    The only thing these plebiscites are good for is to divide Puerto Ricans. A Puerto Rican didn’t invade us to make us a colony. When will we understand that we need to unite?

    This is why we must peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until Puerto Rico is decolonized!

    José M López Sierra http://www.TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR.blogspot.com

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