Last Friday the International Criminal Court (ICC) came under fire from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, after deciding that it has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian occupied territories. But has Netanyahu only dug the hole deeper for Israel with his attacks?
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, now has the ability to hold Israel accountable for war crimes it has committed/commits in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The decision by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber, ruling unanimously that the court has the right of jurisdiction in the occupied territories, means that the human rights violations of Israel, described and documented by countless UN and NGO reports, may now be punished.
In response to this, Netanyahu came out to evoke the Holocaust, claim that Jews are being punished for simply living on their land and scream that the court was anti-Semitic. Naftali Bennet, MK and former Israeli Minister of war, also weighed in suggesting the court was a sham, that Israel would not answer to anyone and that he volunteers to put his name on “the top of that list” of those to be investigated.
Even worse was the response of some Israeli politicians, with Israeli Knesset (government) member Bezalel Smotrich stating on Twitter that Netanyahu should ethnically cleanse the Palestinian village of Khan Al-Ahmar and that any other response “would be somewhat an admission of the allegation of the delusional guilt of the antisemitic tribunal in The Hague. What matters is not what the Gentiles will say but what the Jews will do.”
The ICC Chief first announced in November of 2019, that she was opening an investigation into war crimes committed in Palestine, stating “In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”. But at that time the ICC was constrained by not knowing which territories they would have jurisdiction in. To which Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded at the time by asking for “concrete actions” and “sanctions” to be applied “against the international court – its officials, its prosecutors, everyone.”.
Netanyahu’s Contradictions Of International Law And Own Logic
The first thing that has to be addressed here, is Netanyahu’s double-standards when it comes to the application of sanctions, pressure campaigns and boycotts. When it comes to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) Movement, Netanyahu calls it anti-Semitic and claims that boycotting is not a legitimate form of struggle for Palestinian human rights. In fact, when former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declared BDS a “cancer” and labeled it “anti-Semitic”, stating that the US would essentially boycott the boycotters, the Israeli Premier called it “wonderful”. So when BDS tactics are used against Israel, it is essentially akin to Nazism in the eyes of the Israeli regime, but when the boycotts and pressure campaigns are on their side it is “wonderful”.
Then again this double-standard shined through upon Friday’s announcement, which the US State Department expressed “serious concern” over. Israel’s PM jumped right in front of a camera and called it “pure anti-Semitism“, baseslessly claiming that the ICC is targeting Jews by deciding it will investigate crimes committed by a State. If this claim is to hold up, I guess Saudi Arabia could shake off an investigation too, by claiming that a war crimes probe is somehow Islamophobia. When it comes to criminal offenses, ie. war crimes, the identity of the criminal is not relevant if the crime has in fact been committed.
Benjamin Netanyahu claims in his speech in opposition to the ICC decision that “[The ICC] outrageously claims that when Jews live in our homeland, we are committing a war crime”. To those who don’t understand the context, this would seem like a damning statement, but in fact, what Netanyahu is referring to is the court’s recognition that illegal settlements are illegitimate in the eyes of the law. To Netanyahu, the West Bank settlements are part of Israel, but he even understands that no other country on earth – now including the US since Biden took office – will recognise the “legitimacy” of the settlements. In fact, Netanyahu would not even annex the settlements into Israel officially because he understands that in the eyes of the entire world, this is illegal.
Then he claims that when “Democratic Israel” defends itself from “terrorists, who murder our children, rocket our cities, we are committing another war crime”. The first part of this, where he claims Israel is a democracy is disputed by Israel’s number one human rights organisation ‘B’Tselem’ which says that Israel is not a democratic state but instead an Apartheid Regime.
Then when it comes to the claim about terrorists, killing Israeli children and rocketing cities, we just have to look at the statistics for the 2014 war on Gaza. During the 2014 conflict, Israel killed 2,202 Palestinians, including 526 children, whilst the Gaza based resistance factions killed 6 Israeli civilians (one a Thai national) and only 1 of those civilians was a child. Israel had precision weapons, meaning that it knew what it was hitting. Hamas, PIJ, PFLP and others on the Palestinian side did not have guided munitions and had no idea whether the rockets they fired would reach their intended targets or not. If you look at any of the escalations between Gaza and Israel, the statistics show consistently that Israel kills more civilians and that Israel is the one choosing when to escalate tensions.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Netanyahu was telling us the truth and it was the Palestinian side which was the aggressor and was the one doing the majority of the slaughter. This still does not mean that Israel can get away with committing crimes in return for those committed towards it. On top of this, Israel describes itself as a democratic state and a country of law, so why is it acting so irrationally when it is being held to the standards it wishes to be judged by?
In addition to the above mentioned points of this issue, Hamas is also subject to investigation for war crimes by the ICC now. Yet the group we are led to believe are crazy terrorists, by Israel, have welcomed the ICC’s decision and say they support all investigations, including into its own conduct. So in other words, Hamas are more open to a war crimes probe than Israel.
The Israeli Premier also evokes the Holocaust and claims that the ICC was set up to stop atrocities against the likes of the Jewish people, alluding to the court having paved the way to another genocide of the Jews. Well, investigating State sanctioned war crimes is not genocide and evoking the Holocaust here makes no sense because bringing individuals to justice for crimes is just standard punishment, no one is meant to receive special treatment in this regard and a State being punished for war crimes is not in any way paving the way to genocide, in fact it stops such atrocities. His framing of history, attempting to paint the picture that the ICC was created to protect Israel, ultimately makes no sense because Israel was never a signature to the Rome Statute, nor has it ever been a member State of the ICC.
Netanyahu did not finish there however, he then went on to the tactic of ‘whataboutery’, claiming that the ICC should investigate Iran and Syria first. However, in the cases of Iran and Syria, we see clearly that the devastating sanctions administered to both these countries clearly indicate that both have been severely punished, without any court actually having to investigate individual cases in order for this punishment to have been dished out. Perhaps the most self defeating point the Israeli PM made was claiming that Israel is being singled out, by using its sworn enemies Iran and Syria as examples of countries which should be reprimanded and investigated. Because these are two of the countries which have received some of the worst punishment of any on earth.
Unfortunately for Israel, its approach to combating the ICC is only digging those involved in war crimes a deeper hole. The responses given are almost enough to show any rational observer that they are behaving as if they are guilty.