Amnesty lauds, Washington blasts ICC probe of Israel

Amnesty lauds, Washington blasts ICC probe of Israel
International rights group praises ICC move, but Washington calls it a 'tragic irony'. Israel mulls further punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority, from which it is already withholding tax revenues.
4 min read
17 January, 2015
Gazan journalists protest the killing of 17 colleagues in Israel's assault last year (Anadolu)
Rights group Amnesty International has welcomed the International Criminal Court decision to open a preliminary probe Friday into possible war crimes committed against Palestinians.

The decision "could pave the way for thousands of victims of crimes under international law to gain access to justice," according to the international human rights watch dog.

By contrast, the United States, which has protected Israel from serious international censure over its actions in occupied territory for decades, condemned the ICC move as a "tragic irony".

     The probe could pave the way for thousands of victims of crimes ... to gain access to justice

- Amnesty International
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Friday her office would conduct an "analysis in full independence and impartiality" into alleged war crimes by Israel, including those committed during last year's Gaza offensive.

Her decision comes after Palestine formally joined the ICC earlier this month, allowing it to lodge war crimes and crimes against humanity complaints against Israel as of April.

Some 2,200 Palestinians – among them hundreds of children - were killed during last summer's war in Gaza. Seventy-three Israelis also lost their lives, the vast majority soldiers.

The US criticized the ICC decision late Friday, saying it opposed actions against Israel at the ICC as "counterproductive to the cause of peace".

'Tragic irony'

"It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighbourhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC," US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had earlier reacted angrily to the prosecutor's decision, calling it "scandalous" and "absurd" since "the Palestinian Authority [PA] cooperates with Hamas, a terror group that commits war crimes, in contrast to Israel that fights terror while maintaining international law, and has an independent justice system."

Gambian-born Bensouda had earlier stressed that "a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available... on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation."

Bensouda will decide at a later stage whether to launch a full investigation.

Palestine's move to join the ICC is seen as part of a shift in strategy to internationalize its campaign for statehood and move away from the stalled US-led peace process.

US-led meidation efforst are widely seen as having been ineffectual for the past years. Palestinians have long complained that Washington – due to a powerful domestic pro-Israel lobby - cannot function as an honest broker.

But the PA, under Mahmoud Abbas, has been reluctant to break free of the US-mediated framework.

The Palestinians were upgraded from observer status to UN "observer state" in 2012, opening the doors for them to join the ICC and a host of other international organizations.

But the move to the ICC only came after a resolution at the UN’s Security Council seeking an end to Israel’s 47-year occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2017 failed in late December, in large part due to US pressure on UNSC member states.

Israel earlier this month delayed transferring some $127 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians in retaliation for the PA joining the ICC.

'Justice for victims'

Amnesty welcomed the ICC's announcement saying it "could pave the way for thousands of victims of crimes under international law to gain access to justice."

But the initial probe could lead to an investigation into crimes "committed by all sides", Amnesty stressed in a statement.

Friday's announcement is the second such initial probe by the ICC's prosecutor into the situation in Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority in 2009 lodged a complaint against Israel but the ICC prosecutor said in 2012 after "carefully considering legal arguments" it could not investigate because of the Palestinians' status at the UN.

At the time the Palestinians' "observer" status blocked them from signing up to the ICC's founding Rome Statute.

The ICC, which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, is the world's first independent court set up in 2002 to investigate genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But it can only probe alleged crimes in countries that have ratified the Rome Statute, or accepts the Hague-based court's jurisdiction for a certain time period, or through a referral by the UN Security Council.

Currently, chief prosecutor Bensouda is also running preliminary investigations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq and Ukraine.

While 123 countries have now ratified the Rome Statute, Israel and the United States have not.