ICJ ruling on Israel a ‘landmark decision’ - GulfToday

ICJ ruling on Israel a ‘landmark decision’

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a school sheltering displaced people, in Gaza City.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a school sheltering displaced people, in Gaza City. Reuters

Last week was a bad week for Israel and its allies, particularly the United States. On Monday, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan announced that the court would issue warrants for the arrest for war crimes of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Hamas Gaza commander Yahya Sinwar, his deputy Mohammed Deif and the movement’s expatriate political chief Ismail Haniyeh. Israel and the US howled in protest, particularly because Israeli leaders were paired with Hamas figures. Hamas argued the ICC had equated Palestinian victims with Israeli victimisers.

Khan broke with the usual practice of the ICC by announcing its intention to issue warrants before the move was approved by a panel of judges as he feels this will be forthcoming. Legal expert Mark Kersten told Al-Jazeera, “The warrants are virtually guaranteed because of how much work has gone into the prosecutor’s request and the low threshold that needs to be met.”

The ICC led its complaint against Israel with the charge that it is using starvation as a weapon in its war on Gaza. This is prohibited by international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention which governs treatment of occupied persons by occupiers. Having been in violation of laws and the Convention for decades, this is the first time Israeli leaders could be legally charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The ICC assessment of the situation is particularly uncomfortable for Israel because Palestine has been treated as a state “in accordance with criteria set out in international law.” Israel rejects the two-state solution involving the emergence of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Although Khan and his team said the ongoing conflict was between Israel and a non-state armed group, they argued this was taking place within the overall international conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“Since the experts pointed out that both Israel and Palestine have ratified the Geneva Convention, both must abide by its terms. As Israel retains a “belligerent occupation…(in) at least some of Palestine,” that country must be treated as a legal entity although its territory is occupied by Israel. The US and Britain condemned the ICC move but Germany and France upheld ICC independence and France and Belgium supported its decision.

The second blow came on Wednesday when Ireland, Norway, and Spain declared their recognition of Palestine, joining 143 of the 193 UN member states to take this step. This will be formalised today, the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Jerusalem.

As recognition had been expected for months, Israel has engaged in a political pressure campaign to pre-empt this move. More European Union (EU) member states will likely follow. Seven countries — Cyprus, Sweden, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania — recognised Palestine before entering the EU. Until the tripartite declaration, Sweden was the sole EU member to recognise Palestine while a member of the bloc. Germany and Portugal have said they will not recognise Palestine until there is a negotiated agreement on the two-state solution.

All 146 UN members currently recognising Palestine insist on the two-state solution, mandated by the UN and the international community, as the means to end the Israel-Arab conflict. Netanyahu not only refuses to negotiate with the PLO but has during his 18 years in office stepped up Israeli colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank which along with Gaza, Palestinians claim for their ministate in 22 per cent of geographic Palestine.

The third blow came on Thursday, when UN Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards said she had received reports of Israeli abuse of Palestinian prisoners by sleep deprivation, beatings, threats of sexual violence, insults, humiliation and being “photographed and filmed in degrading poses.”

The final blow on Friday was the most dramatic and consequential. Justices on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) voted 13 to two to demand Israel “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

This was the first time the court ruled that Israel must cease operations in any part of Gaza. The ICJ also demanded Israel allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and admit a team of UN investigators to visit Gaza to assess whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. ICJ rulings are biding in theory but in practice the court does not have the means to enforce them. However, legal experts argue that ICJ rulings are immensely important and influential and can have serious implications for countries, like Israel, which ignore or dismiss them. In response The ICJ, Israel continued to attack Rafah, obstruct aid, and reject the entry to Gaza of UN observers and international media.

Canadian legal expert Kersten called the ICJ’s determination a “landmark decision.” He told Turkey’s news agency Anadolu, “Whatever doubt existed (or was sown by bad faith actors) it is absolutely clear that the people of Gaza are at risk of genocide, and that the way to stop the genocidal violence is a halt to hostilities.” On the international front, Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz that Israel has become a rogue state. “One step from the abyss, there are two urgent measures that Israel must take: ending the war and replacing its government. The world’s two top courts ordered it to do exactly that.” Their actions have exerted fresh pressure on Israel and its Anglo-US allies to end the Gaza war. By refusing, the US and Britain encourage Israel to carry on risking a rift with the European Union (EU). In response to the ICJ decision, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated, “We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel.”

On the ground in Gaza, Israel faced renewed attacks by Hamas fighters in areas the Israeli army had “cleared” the north and centre of the strip as well as Hamas defenders in besieged Rafah. Denying government claims that 20 of Hamas’ 24 brigades have been eliminated, Israeli Knesset Member Amit Halevi said that all Hamas brigades are still operating in Gaza.

Middle East Monitor reports that instead of securing an early victory over Hamas, retired Israeli general Yitzak Brik has accused Netanyahu of prosecuting a “war of attrition” for which the army needs reinforcements and restructuring. UNRWA and World Food Programme (WFP) have halted food deliveries, distribution and services in Rafah due to Israel’s ongoing offensive. WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told the Associated Press that “humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse [and if supplies do not arrive] in massive quantities, famine like conditions will spread.” WFP director Cindy McCain stated on May 4th there is “full blown famine” in the north and it is “moving south.” The situation in “Gaza remains beyond catastrophic,” stated World Health Organisation director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


Related articles