Palestine seeks to charge Israel with ‘apartheid’ and war crimes at the Hague

Published by Mondoweiss

Palestinian leaders seek to charge Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague with the crime of “Apartheid” and 22 other criminal counts, including seven war crimes. A thick set of documents containing evidence and arguments was ceremoniously handed over to the ICC today at its headquarters, according to Shawan Jabarin, the director of the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq.

Jabarin said he had seen the documents in Ramallah and that the case file covers three areas of Israeli violations under international law: the summer war in Gaza in 2014, settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and issues relating to Palestinian prisoners. Most of the pages are of “legal analysis and legal arguments” he said, in which Palestinians gave technical explanations to the court for how Israel broke specific regulations. 

The dossier is organized into sections, one for each of the 23 counts against Israel. Aside from asserting that Israel has violated the United Nations definition of “Apartheid,” Jabarin said the report also names specific crimes such as the “targeting of civilians” in Gaza, and violations of rights to due process for Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons who are then prosecuted under Israeli military code. 

Military courts boast a 99.9% conviction rate and trials last an average of five minutes. Palestinians rights groups say these courts violate their fundamental rights to a fair trial. Additionally, Israel transfers Palestinians from the occupied territory to a number of prisons inside Israel in what the Palestinian brief argues is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  

The evidence used to support each of the Palestinian claims is sourced from field investigations by the Palestinian government, and reports published by the human rights groups Al Haq, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Surprisingly Jabarin indicated the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) report published Sunday outlining “possible war crimes” committed by Israel and Hamas was not included, despite Palestinian leaders stating repeatedly over the past few months that they would courier a copy to the ICC. Even so, the court has the ability to solicit their own research materials including ordering the UN report. 

For the moment Palestinian officials are keeping quiet on the details. Jabarin’s account represents the most substantial clues as to what charges Palestine will seek against Israel. And while he was confident about what he had seen in the file, he noted that he had not read the entire file, and it may contain further charges.

“It’s not for public view,” Ashraf Khatib, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and an advisor to the negotiations team, told me. “We wanted to have an exclusive report made for the ICC.” Another source close to the Palestinian government indicated a directive had gone out to not disclose the contents of the brief. 

“Who is charged, it’s up to the court,” said Khatib. “The idea is to make sure Israel and Israeli decision makers will not commit more crimes like the ones that took place in Gaza last year.”

Last winter after Palestine joined the ICC, its leaders sought to compel the ICC to look into war crimes committed by Israel. However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was barred at that time from calling for a criminal investigation. His hands were tied by a four-month waiting period for new members to the court.

All the same, Palestinian officials exploited a loophole in the ICC rules to initiate a “preliminary inquiry” against Israel within their first months of joining the ICC. Now that freeze against filing charges against Israel has elapsed, Palestinian officials hope that their documents turned over to the court today will upgrade the inquiry into a full investigation, giving the court the power to summons Israeli officials for a trial. 

Yet there is no guarantee that the court will charge Israel, and Israel can still take actions that would immobilize The Hague. 

The ICC can only move to charge Israel once its internal war crimes investigations closes. The ICC does not prosecute countries or leaders who are sanctioned by their own legal systems. Right now, Israel still has a handful of cases open that could lead to indictments. 

On the other hand, prosecution in the ICC could be nearing for Hamas for the alleged war crimes it committed during the war, including the targeting of civilians by rocket fire and the killings of so-called collaborators. The UN Human Rights Council report revealed the Islamic movement that rules Gaza does not have any system of internal review, which is the only mechanism that could outright block the ICC from opening charges. As a result, Hamas is currently more exposed to the long arm of the ICC than Israel.