Israel pulls the trigger, US lets it off the hook

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 24, 2023

Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights have spiked this year as it accelerates Jewish settlement-building and consolidates its regime of Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea.

Ending impunity is the primary call from Palestinian human rights groups documenting Israel’s crimes.

One such group, Al-Haq, called for “urgent, effective and meaningful accountability measures to ensure an end to Israel’s unlawfully enjoyed culture of impunity” after Jewish settlers rampaged in a Palestinian village earlier this year.

In late February and early March – after a series of deadly raids in Palestinian cities and refugee camps and settler attacks against Palestinian communities – Al-Haq and other organizations urged the International Criminal Court to issue a preventive statement to deter further crimes.

A preventive statement should, the groups argued, specify that all allegations of Israel’s crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza will be probed by the court.

No such statement was issued. And since then, Israel has only increased its use of force, employing drone strikes in the West Bank for the first time and dropping missiles on Jenin refugee camp in the largest military operation in the territory in two decades.

Meanwhile, the ICC’s investigation of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, launched more than a year ago, appears to be stalled and underfunded, seemingly low on the new chief prosecutor’s priority list.

Third states have enthusiastically financially and politically supported the court’s activities in Ukraine, where the chief prosecutor has made repeated visits. There has been no such fanfare for the Palestine investigation – despite it being one of the most documented situations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Israel’s powerful friends – some of them, like Canada, state parties to the ICC and others, like the US, not – are even opposed to and undermining the Palestine investigation.

More positively, however, this month the European Parliament approved a resolution reiterating the European Union’s “strong support” for the ICC’s independence while noting its “limited progress” in the investigation in Palestine.

The European Parliament asked that the EU “commit to helping the ICC and its prosecutor to move forward with the investigation and prosecution.”

And at the United Nations last week, Ronald Lamola, South Africa’s justice minister, noted the lack of progress of the ICC’s investigation in Palestine and called for equal access to justice.

“Any perception of bias by the prosecution or the court will impend our endeavors to achieve peace, security and well-being of the world,” he said.

“The ICC must urgently advance in its investigation,” Lamola added.

Herzog’s visit to Washington

Justice for Palestinians was nowhere on the agenda during Israeli president Isaac Herzog’s recent visit to Washington, which provides a floor of $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel each year.

Herzog’s speech during a joint session of Congress last week was boycotted by only a handful progressive Democrats. He received multiple standing ovations from the packed audience while claiming that Palestinian “terror,” rather than Israeli colonization, is what destroyed prospects for peace.

Likewise, on the eve of Herzog’s speech, only 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives “declined to vote for a widely backed resolution stating that Israel was neither racist nor an apartheid state, alongside declarations of strong support for Israel,” as The New York Times reports.

Among US lawmakers, there remains a bipartisan consensus to protect Israel’s impunity, no matter the gravity of its crimes against the Palestinians or how racist its ruling coalition.

And while Herzog serves as a moderate foil to the extreme-right government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, he represents a state that practices apartheid – “a crime so heinous it falls under the definition of a crime against humanity,” as the author Miko Peled points out.

Ahead of Herzog’s visit, the human rights watchdog DAWN called on the US State Department to issue a visa ban and deny entry to his military secretary, Naama Rosen-Herzog.

In her previous role as intelligence officer for the Israeli military’s central command, Rosen-Herzog ordered the wrongful detention – without charge or trial – of Jamal Niser, a US citizen.

Niser, who was 74 years old when he was first held under administrative detention orders in 2021, was born in Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel and raised a family in the US, after which he returned to the occupied West Bank.

He has been repeatedly released and detained anew “based on uncorroborated secret evidence [over] his peaceful involvement in local Palestinian Authority elections,” according to DAWN, and is currently subjected to a travel ban that prevents him from leaving the territory.

“The very least the Biden administration can do is stop covering its own eyes when Israel so grossly abuses American citizens,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, a research director for DAWN.

Justice for Shireen Act

Meanwhile, dozens of organizations in the US, including DAWN, are calling on Congress to support the Justice for Shireen Act, a bill that would require the FBI and State Department to publicly report on the circumstances of the killing of the US citizen it is named for.

Shireen Abu Akleh, an iconic Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot and killed while reporting on an Israeli military raid in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank last year.

Numerous independent investigations point to Israeli responsibility for the journalist’s death. While the Israeli military acknowledged that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh was killed by its fire, eventually expressing regret for her death, there has been no accountability.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers continue to deliberately fire at journalists, including during raids in Jenin.

The bill, introduced by Indiana lawmaker Andre Carson, “requires an identification of the individuals and entities that carried out, participated in, or were otherwise complicit in, or responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh; and any United States defense materials or services that were implicated” in her death.

The Biden administration has been complicit in Israel’s cover-up of Abu Akleh’s killing and opposes an ICC investigation into her death.

While fielding questions from reporters regarding Abu Akleh, the administration in Washington has deferred to Israel’s long discredited self-investigation mechanisms.

During his stint as the US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price pointed to the case of Iyad Hallaq as an example of Israel’s ability to commit to a “thorough, transparent and impartial investigation.”

Hallaq, a 31-year-old Palestinian, was shot and killed by an Israeli paramilitary border police officer in Jerusalem in May 2020. He was walking to a day center for youth and adults with disabilities with his caretaker when he was chased and shot while he cowered in fear for his life.

Al-Haq called the shooting and killing of Hallaq “an apparent extrajudicial execution and willful killing” that “may amount to an international crime giving rise to individual criminal responsibility.”

Earlier this month, an Israeli court acquitted the officer who was charged with reckless manslaughter of Hallaq.

An Israeli gag order bans Israeli media from identifying Hallaq’s killer but blogger Richard Silverstein named him as Elior Yakov.

Upon his acquittal, Yakov will return to the border police and be trained as a commander.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada