ICC prosecutor opens probe in Palestinian territories

ICC prosecutor opens probe in Palestinian territories
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has previously said there is a "reasonable basis" to believe crimes were committed by members of the Israeli army.
3 min read
Gaza is being devestated [Getty]
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Wednesday that she had opened a formal probe into alleged crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, a move strongly opposed by Israel.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has previously said there is a "reasonable basis" to believe crimes were committed by members of the Israeli army, Israeli authorities, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

"Today, I confirm the initiation by the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of an investigation respecting the situation in Palestine," Bensouda said in a statement.

"The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014."

Israel is not a member of the Hague-based ICC and has vehemently opposed any probe.

But ICC judges paved the way for a war crimes investigation when they ruled a month ago that the court has jurisdiction over the situation as Palestine is a member.

Bensouda said in December 2019 that she wanted a full investigation after a five-year preliminary probe, but asked the court to rule whether its reach extended to the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had praised February's ICC ruling as "a victory for justice and humanity" while Hamas said it wanted to "bring the Zionist criminals of war before international courts and hold them responsible".

Amnesty internationla hailed the decision, saying it is a "historic breakthrough".

“Today’s confirmation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that she has opened an investigation into crimes under international law committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a momentous breakthrough for justice after decades of non-accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Matthew Cannock, Head of Amnesty International’s Centre for International Justice.

“The ICC investigation provides the first genuine prospect for thousands of victims of crimes under international law to gain long overdue access to justice, truth and reparations. It also offers a historic opportunity to finally put an end to the pervasive impunity that has driven serious violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for more than half a century."

Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of 1967, and later annexed mostly Arab east Jerusalem.

Today they are home to at least five million Palestinians defined by the United Nations as living under Israeli occupation.

Over a decade of siege

In 2006, Israel imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the strip, effectively turning the coastal enclave into an open-air prison, where basic necessities such as food, fuel and medicines are severely restricted.

Israel insists its blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, bringing devastation to the Gaza Strip.

Critics say the blockade, along with periodic bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of the coastal enclave's 2 million residents.

In 2014, the UN - along with four other human rights organisations - said that the Gaza Strip could end up becoming 'uninhabitable' because of Israel's policies. The decade-long siege has plunged hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into poverty. 

Nearly 70 percent of Gaza's population is food insecure and around 80 percent of Palestinians in the beseiged enclave are reliant on international aid, according to the United Nations.

Out of Gaza's 1.8 million population, 1.4 million are refugees whose ancestors were forced out of their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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