Israel, Palestine and the International Criminal Court

On January 16, 2015, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine looking into alleged crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014. Israel condemned this move. Hamas welcomed this move, even though its actions will also be under scrutiny by the ICC. The announcement drew the ire of some Western media platforms, the blogosphere, and many US politicians, mentioning “retaliation” against the Palestinians, or – more subtly – concluding that this will “backfire” on the Palestinian Authority.

We Christ-followers are called to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17). Yet justice seems elusive in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 60+ years of history and an array of vital issues – land, water, refugees, borders, Palestinian prisoners, civilian death tolls, security, etc.

Oftentimes, we need to deal first with our own belief systems, including who inherits the land. However, even if we have different theologies or belief systems stemming from our various interpretations of the Scriptures, no interpretation justifies the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity – of which the ICC is competent to judge.

Therefore, I would like to invite the readers to approach this conflict today from a different lens. I invite you to take a stand on international justice, as a pre-requisite for approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague. (Photo credit: REUTERS)

The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague. (Photo credit: REUTERS)

First, where do we stand on the ICC? The ICC is the permanent international court that followed several ad hoc international tribunals, namely those for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. I argue that, more than ever before, we need to lobby our governments to endorse a strong and well-resourced ICC.

  • International tribunals were the only recourse against the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, especially for crimes committed by high ranking civilian and military officials.
  • Today, the ICC is the sole hope for redress for many conflict victims in Africa, currently being investigated by this Court. Nigeria is under preliminary examinations. Investigations and evidence collection are under way in the Central African Republic.
  • The ICC Statute has only 122 ratifications with many of the remaining States, including the United States, unwilling to ratify. We need to advocate for further ratifications.
  • The ICC is one of the few international mechanisms that can possibly achieve a breakthrough to halt the lingering conflicts in Syria and in Iraq. We need to advocate for a referral of Syria and Iraq to the ICC by the Security Council.

A recent Washington Times article (February 1st 2015) argues “the obvious question is whether the International Criminal Court is capable of investigating with the objectivity the situation requires.” This is a key playing field: never before did we have the mechanisms to seek justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dismissing the Court because it is scrutinizing Israel’s actions would leave millions of victims without any recourse whatsoever, and would perpetrate impunity worldwide.

Second, we need to accept that Israel is likely to have committed war crimes, as have Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas. Violations of the laws of war by these various actors have been documented extensively by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Palestinian organizations, Israeli organizations, media reports and UN agencies.

The definition of war crimes, in accordance to the ICC statute, not only includes the killing of civilians and destruction of civilian property, but also the “transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” All governments, including the US government, have condemned ongoing Israeli settlement of the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem, to no avail.

Third, the “statehood” argument is a key element of the debate. According to the ICC statement, “The Office (of the Prosecutor) considers that, since Palestine was granted observer State status in the United Nations by the UN General Assembly, it must be considered a ‘State’ for the purposes of accession to the Rome Statute.” In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued, “It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a State and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel.”

As seekers of justice, I raise the question: Is it just to bind the right of granting statehood to the will of the one who is occupying and actively colonizing that same State? Since the Oslo agreements, Israel has denied Palestinians the right of statehood while simultaneously and vigorously erecting Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, destroying Palestinians homes, and confiscating Palestinian land and water.

An important and informative precedent on justice when the issue of statehood is at question is the accession to statehood of South West Africa/Namibia in 1966. Although Namibia was occupied, it was able to achieve statehood. (John Quigley, 2010).

Fourth, and finally, we need an authoritative court decisions that clarifies what justice is in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such decisions would bring clarity to a complex situation, or to a highly polarized situation. The only recent precedent of an international jurisdiction addressing this conflict was the International Court of Justice advisory opinion in 2004 on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Court’s 15 Judges unanimously found that Israel’s construction of the wall and the associated regime are contrary to international law, and ordered Israel to make reparation for all damage suffered by all persons affected by the wall’s construction. We need to advocate for judicial intervention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and advocate for international judicial decisions and opinions to be enforced.

 

As believers, we should approve or denounce acts and events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. Supporting the ICC and its action on Israel-Palestine is just and merciful in this seemingly endless conflict. I invite all Christ-followers not to cave in to a discourse that favor Israeli immunity over and against justice and mercy for all Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Nigerians, Congolese, Sudanese and victims of every other armed conflict today.

When one of the Temple guards struck Jesus with his hand, Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) It is right to ask this question today, and it is right to bring it before the ICC.

 

Note: Links in this blog post to third party websites are supportive of the corresponding statements. To be conclusive, additional footnotes, references and links would be required, but extensive documentation is not feasible in this blog.

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