War crime allegations in Palestinian territories to be investigated by International Criminal Court

An investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories has been launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nearly a month after the court ruled that it did have the necessary jurisdiction, a formal inquiry has been launched.

The ICC’s outgoing prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said her office had carried out a “painstaking preliminary examination” lasting “close to five years”.

“In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ms Bensouda said the court’s inquiry into events since 2014, will follow “the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized”.

It was initially said that the actions of both Israel and armed groups in Palestine would be looked in to, but later reports said the investigation will focus on alleged Israeli actions.

Predictably, like February’s announcement about jurisdiction, Wednesday’s development was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), but rejected by Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the opening of an investigation as “the epitome of antisemitism and hypocrisy” and promised to reverse it.

Warning that Israel “is under attack tonight”, he evoked memories of the Holocaust as he condemned the decision.

“The court set up to prevent the recurrence of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jewish people is now turning against the state of the Jewish people,” he said.

In contrast, a PA foreign ministry statement called it “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve”.

The US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch said the decision “moves Israeli and Palestinian victims of serious crimes one step closer to obtaining a measure of justice that has for too long eluded them”.

Ms Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan in June, said in December 2019 that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip”.

The Palestinians joined the court in 2015 and have long pushed for an investigation of Israel, which is not a member.

They especially want Israeli actions during its 2014 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to be assessed, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

Ms Bensouda has reportedly also vowed to look into the actions of Hamas, which fired rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the 2014 war.

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