Mondoweiss / July 3, 2020
A prominent Canadian human rights lawyer has submitted a request to the International Criminal Court ICC to investigate senior U.S. and Israeli officials for alleged war crimes committed against the Palestinian people.
William Schabas, a professor of international law at Middlesex University in London, filed a lengthy Article 15 communication with the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor, or OTP on Tuesday asking for an investigation of the architects of the so-called “deal of the century,” also known as the Trump peace plan. The scheme would result in a nominally independent but effectively disjointed Palestinian “state” that would be established through land swaps with Israel and Israeli annexation. It would leave Palestinians cut off from each other in what some have called a “Swiss cheese state” and other have called “modern-day Bantustans.”
The new complaint, filed on behalf of four Palestinians from the West Bank, names President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who was placed in charge of brokering the deal despite having no experience in foreign policy or the Middle East. The four Palestinians named in the filing are: Ahmad al-Khaldi, Gassan Khaled, Hasan M. Masan and Abderrahman F. Zaidan.
Palestine’s leaders and people have roundly rejected the U.S. plan. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it the “slap of the century,” while chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it the “fraud of the century.”
“The threatened annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel is an international crime defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” Schabas said at a virtual press conference announcing the new filing. “It is intricately linked to the war crime of changing the population of an occupied territory.” Schabas added that ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “needs to address this as part of her ongoing investigation, casting the net beyond the Israeli leaders to their partners and accomplices in Washington, including Trump, Pompeo and Kushner.”
Under Article 15 of the ICC Rome Statute, any person or organization can send information regarding alleged war crimes to the OTP. The ICC prosecutor then determines whether the situation warrants a formal investigation. The new Article 15 communication asserts that the proposed U.S. plan will lead to an increase in crimes which the OTP is currently investigating. The new complaint states there is credible evidence that Trump, Pompeo, Kushner and other senior U.S. officials are complicit in what could be war crimes under international law, including Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an “occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”
Since illegally occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in Palestine and the Golan Heights in Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War, over 200 Jews-only settlements have been built in the West Bank. There are currently more than 600,000 Israelis living in these settlements, in which Arabs cannot reside or often even enter, and which are also illegal under international law.
Israeli settlers continue to illegally seize land, expel inhabitants and destroy their homes. Settlers sometimes attack and brutally murder Palestinians, including children, who stand in their way. Palestinian movement is restricted by Jews-only roads, ubiquitously oppressive Israeli military checkpoints and a separation barrier — known to Palestinians as the apartheid wall — that cuts Palestinians off from each other, their land and their livelihoods.
Prominent international critics have called the ongoing Zionist colonization of Palestine an act of ethnic cleansing and the exclusively Jewish settlements a form of apartheid.
Last December, after years of delays and backtracking, the OTP announced it would investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops against Palestinian civilians, including intentionally launching disproportionate attacks, willful killing and injury of Palestinians, intentionally attacking Red Cross and other medical personnel and facilities, unlawful transfer of Israeli civilians into illegally occupied Palestinian territory and construction and expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements. In announcing its decision to investigate, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she believed that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”
Netanyahu responded to the announcement by saying that the ICC “has no jurisdiction in this case” because the court “only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states,” and that “there has never been a Palestinian state.” Israel has not joined the ICC but the Palestinian Authority — which has limited autonomy under Israeli military occupation — is a member.
The Israeli government is pushing ahead with its own plan to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank with or without coordinating with Washington. However, despite suggestions from Netanyahu that the imminent annexation would occur on July 1, the plan has apparently been delayed. “It seems unlikely to me that this will happen today,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told reporters on Wednesday.
Aside from the United States, most of the world opposes Israel’s annexation plan. A group of 47 experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council recently accused Israel of “profound human rights violations,” calling the annexation plan “a vision of 21st century apartheid.” Amnesty International condemned what it called Israel’s “cynical disregard for international law.” Last week, the Belgian parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for punitive measures, including sanctions, against Israel if it annexes more of Palestine.
Meanwhile, President Trump continues to attack the ICC over its March decision to open an investigation into war crimes committed by all sides during the 19-year war in Afghanistan, including alleged torture, rape and other crimes by U.S. troops and intelligence agents. Last month, the Trump administration announced it would sanction ICC officials involved in probing U.S. crimes, imposing a travel ban on them and their families. The administration also said it would launch a counter-investigation into alleged ICC corruption.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based independent journalist whose work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights