Maureen Clare Murphey
The Electronic Intifada / June 23, 2020
The sentence is both a slap on the wrist and a rare example of an Israeli soldier bearing any consequence, no matter how light, for the unjustified and wanton death or injury of a Palestinian.
The exceedingly lenient sentence, the human rights group B’Tselem told media, “is but the latest example of how the military law enforcement system is designed to protect perpetrators, not their victims.”
“Enforcing a military occupation on millions of people for decades requires exorbitant violence and impunity for the soldiers who sustain it,” the group added.
With no hope for justice within Israel’s self-investigation apparatuses, which exist only to fend off international judicial scrutiny, Palestinians have turned to the court of last resort for the victims of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
After a five-year preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, the International Criminal Court is poised to launch a formal investigation that could see indictments brought against Israelis for war crimes perpetrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Around 3,500 Palestinians, including 800 children, have been killed in those territories in the decade since Palestinians first petitioned the court.
The number of Israeli soldiers convicted over the death of a Palestinian during that time can be counted on one hand.
Killer soldiers whose behaviour was examined by Israel’s self-investigation mechanisms have been let off the hook. Some have even enjoyed promotions.
ICC under attack
As local courts protect Israeli soldiers, commanders and political leaders from accountability, justice on the international stage has proven just as elusive.
For decades, the US has played a key role in not only funding Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also in shielding it from international accountability.
The latest effort towards that end is an executive order issued by Donald Trump earlier this month.
It allows the US to impose sanctions or travel bans on anyone employed by or cooperating with the ICC, whose chief prosecutor has recommended war crimes investigations in relation to US forces in Afghanistan.
In a move reminiscent of Israeli-style collective punishment, Trump’s order even allows for sanctions against the family members of ICC officials.
Though the executive order does not mention Israel, the US has partnered with that country to undermine any ICC investigations targeting their officials.
“Given Israel’s robust civilian and military legal system, and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political reasons,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated earlier this month.
“It’s a mockery of justice,” Pompeo added, all facts to the contrary.
In an attempt to rally European states against the court, Pompeo warned US allies that “your people could be next,” particularly those “from NATO countries who fought terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside of us.”
On Tuesday, more than half of the member states of the International Criminal Court issued a joint statement reconfirming their “unwavering support” of the tribunal.
He renewed the EU’s commitment to “defending the court from any outside interference aimed at obstructing the course of justice and undermining the international system of criminal justice.”
Yet many of those states claiming to stand for justice in the face of US threats against the ICC have contributed to the erosion of justice and accountability.
Israel’s illegal siege of collective punishment on Gaza has entered its 13th year while its new government moves to unilaterally annex some 30 percent of the West Bank.
Instead of sanctions, these crimes are being met with increased EU rewards.
EU member states Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic have meanwhile intervened with the ICC to shield Israeli officials from investigation and indictment, claiming the tribunal has no jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories.
This favourable treatment effectively greenlights Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
Nawaf al-Attar, the Gaza fisher killed in 2018, was shot as part of Israel’s enforcement of its land, air and naval blockade on the territory.
International complicity – Trump bullying and EU hypocrisy alike – has allowed Israel’s siege to persist.
The latest victims are two infants who didn’t receive Israeli permits to leave Gaza in time for the medical treatment they needed to stay alive.
No one will be held accountable for their deaths. But international law holds that Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible for the health of Palestinians living under its military rule.
By talking one way while walking another, those who claim to be working towards a liberal international order that upholds human rights are just as responsible as the belligerent Trumps of the world for the failure to protect the most vulnerable.
Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago