ICC launches war crimes probe into Israeli practices

JERUSALEM (AP) — The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Chief prosecutor on Wednesday launched an investigation into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, turning the tribunal’s focus toward Israeli military actions and settlement construction on lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The decision dealt an embarrassing blow to the Israeli government, which had conducted an aggressive public relations and behind-the-scenes diplomatic campaign to block the investigation. It also raised the possibility of arrest warrants being issued against Israeli officials suspected of war crimes, making it potentially risky to travel abroad.

“The state of Israel is under attack this evening,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement.

“The biased international court in the Hague made a decision that is the essence of anti-Semitism and hypocrisy.”

“I promise you we will fight for the truth until we annul this scandalous decision,” he said.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. PHOTO: AP

The decision by Fatou Bensouda, the court’s outgoing prosecutor, had been expected since the court determined last month that she had jurisdiction over the case. A preliminary probe by Bensouda in 2019 had found a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes case.

In a statement, Bensouda said the investigation will look into “crimes within the jurisdiction of the court that are alleged to have been committed” since June 13, 2014. She said the investigation will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour”.

That task will now be handed to Karim Khan, the British lawyer who is set to become the court’s chief prosecutor in June.

Wednesday’s decision turns the court’s focus toward two key Israeli policies of recent years: its repeated military operations against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, highlighted by a devastating 2014 war, and its expansion of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Experts said that Israel could be especially vulnerable to prosecution for its settlement policies.

Although the Palestinians do not have an independent state, they were granted non-member observer status in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2012, allowing them to join international organisations like the ICC.

Since joining the court in 2015, they have pushed for a war crimes probe against Israel. Israel, which is not a member of the court, had said it does not have jurisdiction because Palestine is not a sovereign state.