Israel’s ‘terrorist’ label for Palestinian rights groups is aimed at stopping ICC probe of war crimes – Al-Haq founders say

Then IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz here with Benjamin Netanyahu (Dan Balilty)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  October 29, 2021

“The six organizations that Israel declared to be terrorist have all been active, especially Al-Haq, in documenting and presenting dossiers to the International Criminal Court in the Hague regarding Israel’s violations of human rights,” and particularly of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2014, says Jonathan Kuttab.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six Palestinian organizations as “terrorist” groups a week ago because they have given evidence to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for an investigation of Israeli war crimes, including possible crimes by Gantz, say the founders of one of those groups, the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

“The one thing that is common among these six organizations that have just been declared to be terrorist is that they have all been active, especially Al-Haq, in documenting and presenting dossiers to the International Criminal Court in the Hague regarding Israel’s violations of human rights,” the Palestinian-American lawyer Jonathan Kuttab said yesterday in a webinar with the Balfour Project.

The ICC is focused on the Gaza onslaught of 2014, Kuttab said, “where Gantz himself, now the Defense Minister, was the head of the Israeli armed forces, so potentially is a defendant in any upcoming litigation before the International Criminal Court. ‘Who are these people to try me! I will declare them to be terroristic and I will make them suffer and pay. I will criminalize them!’”

Israel killed over 2000 Palestinians in that war, including more than 500 children. Gaza forces killed 73 Israelis.

The Palestinian lawyer and novelist Raja Shehadeh, who co-founded Al-Haq with Kuttab in 1979, made the same point in the New York Review of Books:

“Why now, one might ask. The most probable answer is that Al-Haq has recently given strong support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by supplying evidence for its investigation of war crimes by Israel during the 2014 Gaza War. (The ICC is also studying accusations against the Palestinian militant group Hamas of war crimes in that same conflict.) Among the candidates that could be named in such an indictment would be Gantz himself, who was then commander in chief of the Israeli military.”

Gantz ran for prime minister two years ago bragging that he had bombed Gaza “back to the stone age” during the 2014 war.

The ICC announced in February that it was investigating Israeli actions since 2014, and those of Hamas too, as possible war crimes. The move has been viewed as a potential shift in global power politics affecting Israel and its settlement program, and it has shocked and enraged Israeli officials. Benjamin Netanyahu called the probe “pure antisemitism.”

American Israel lobby organizations have decried the ICC investigation, and the White House has complied by backing Israeli obstruction of the investigation.

The Biden administration has said that it “firmly opposes” the ICC investigation of Israel for war crimes as illegitimate. Senior Biden officials have “several times” privately pressured the Palestinian Authority to withdraw its 2015 complaint to the ICC that resulted in the investigation, to prosecute Israel for war crimes including the settlements, Israeli media reported last month.

The new Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has refused to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying, “I see no logic in meeting Abbas when he’s suing our soldiers in the Hague and accuses our commanders of war crimes.”

Kuttab, now the head of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), said that the terrorist designation of the six human rights and civil society groups is a sign of unprecedented Israeli arrogance at a time when it has been declared an apartheid state.

“It really marks a not-unexpected but certainly pivotal turn in the whole situation in how Israel views itself. I think Israel has now reached the point where the arrogance, the hubris, the feeling of power and invincibility has reached the point where they really don’t care. They actually really don’t care. 25 percent of Israelis think and acknowledge that the situation in Israel is apartheid and they say, So What! We can in fact get away with it. Netanyahu has said if international law is not in our favor, then we will change international law.”

He said the Israeli effort to blunt the investigation is in line with the Israel lobby’s political effort inside the U.S. to push legislation punishing those who support the nonviolent BDS campaign against Israeli human rights violations.

“Somehow the nonviolent expression of support for Palestinians becomes itself a criminal offense. There is a new definition of antisemitism, the IHRA definition, which defines antisemitism to includes anti-Zionism. And actions against the state of Israel themselves therefore become a criminal offense for which you may be prosecuted.”

Shehadeh described the terrorist designation as a landmark moment for Israel and for the international rule of law.

“This only highlights how important it is for the ICC to succeed in its efforts to hold Israel to account—and how important it is to frustrate the US government’s efforts to obstruct the ICC’s work toward bringing to justice any Israeli official who has committed war crimes. The Israeli government’s perception that it is immune from any such prosecution has emboldened it to keep breaking international law over the years—as this latest order against Al-Haq demonstrates.”

Shehadeh quoted a Haaretz editorial saying the designation is a blow to nonviolent struggle.

“This is a boon to terrorist organizations and the use of violence. If all forms of resistance constitute terror, how can one resist the occupation without being a terrorist?”