Israel compiles secret list of hundreds who could stand trial at ICC: Report

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 16, 2020

List shows officials who could be arrested abroad if international court opens probe into alleged Israeli war crimes.

Israel is compiling a top secret list of military and intelligence officials who could be arrested abroad if the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague opens an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, according to an Israeli newspaper.

Haaretz reported that the list contains between 200 and 300 officials, some of whom are not aware of their inclusion.

The secrecy around the list stems from concerns that the court is likely to perceive the compilation of names as an official Israeli admission of the officials’ involvement in the events under investigation.

The ICC is expected to rule shortly on whether to approve a request by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate Israel and Hamas over alleged war crimes in the occupied territories, starting in 2014.

The summer of 2014 saw the outbreak of the Gaza war and experts in international law believe that officials and decision-makers involved in incidents during the war are likely to be the first to be examined by the court.

In 2015, a report by UN investigators concluded both Israel and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes during the conflict.

The conflict lasted for 50 days between July and August, and ended in a truce. On the Palestinian side, 2,251 people, of whom 1,462 were civilians, were killed, the report said. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers were killed along with six civilians.

The report by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said that while both Israelis and Palestinians were “profoundly shaken” by the war, “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented” in Gaza.

It said 551 Palestinian children were among the dead, with thousands more among the 11,231 Palestinians injured by Israeli action.

‘Reasonable basis’

Israelis who could come under the ICC’s scrutiny include: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former defence ministers Moshe Yaalon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; former Israel Defence Forces chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, and current chief of staff Aviv Kochavi; and the former and current heads of the Shin Bet domestic security service, Yoram Cohen and Nadav Argaman, respectively.

Since the issue of Israel’s illegal settlements are also within the remit of the requested ICC investigation, people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking army officers and officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts, could be included, Haaretz said.

With regard to the settlements, Bensouda wrote: “There is a reasonable basis to believe that… the Israeli authorities… transfer[ed] Israeli civilians into the West Bank since 13 June 2014.”

She added: “Despite the clear and enduring calls that Israel cease activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory deemed contrary to international law, there is no indication that they will end.

“To the contrary, there are indications that they may not only continue, but that Israel may seek to annex these territories.”

Bensouda noted that last year, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex large parts of the West Bank if re-elected.”

Netanyahu had set a 1 July deadline for starting the process of annexing parts of the West Bank, but it appears to have temporarily postponed the plan.

Israel contests jurisdiction

Judges Reine Adelaide Sophie Alapini-Gansou of Benin, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France, and Peter Kovacs of Hungary will decide if the prosecutor’s conclusion in December that a basis for an investigation was justified and if so, whether the court has jurisdiction in the areas in which the alleged crimes were committed: annexed East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel contends that the ICC does not have such a remit, in part because it says the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot delegate its judicial authority, and also because the case involves a political dispute.

Bensouda, for her part, believes the court does have this authority, but has asked the judges to determine the scope of its jurisdiction due to the absence of permanent, recognised borders for the territories, Haaretz said.

As a result, Israel refuses to recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction in the matter and does not intend to represent itself officially in any proceedings there.

US sanctions against ICC

In recent months, Israel had encouraged the administration of US President Donald Trump to sanction the ICC in the hope that this would deter the court from the war crimes investigation.

Last month, Trump announced sanctions against ICC officials investigating abuses by Americans and Israelis, stressing that court had no “jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and certain of its allies”.

An executive order signed by Trump froze any assets of targeted ICC investigators in the US and banned them and their immediate family members from entering the country.

The decree did not mention Israel by name, but repeatedly stated that the sanctions aimed to protect US “allies” that are not party to the Rome Statute that established the court in 1998.

Israel and the US are two of the few countries that rejected the founding of the court, while 123 countries have agreed to its mandate.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear that the executive order is also about Israel, saying that Washington is “gravely concerned” about the “threat” that the court poses to the US ally in the Middle East.

“The ICC is already threatening Israel with an investigation of so-called war crimes committed by its forces and personnel in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip,” Pompeo said in a brief statement on 11 June.

“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 purposes. It’s a mockery of justice.”

The US decision led dozens of countries to issue statements confirming their support for the ICC.