‘War crimes in Palestine’: UK government urged to refer Israel and Netanyahu to ICC

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 25, 2023

British NGO says Israeli policies amount to the crime of apartheid and should be deemed a violation of the ICC statute.

The UK-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has called on the British government to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed in Palestine, and to recognize the court’s jurisdiction with respect to the situation.

The call follows the UK’s decision to lead the joint referral of the situation in Ukraine to the Court, in tandem with a coordinated group of ICC State Parties.

“It is a gross double standard that while the UK government assists and facilitates international accountability and legal action against the leader of one nation for war crimes, they support and engage in friendly relations with another,” Tayab Ali, ICJP director and partner at Bindmans LLP, said.

“Palestinians are entitled to the same rights and protections under international law as those living in any other territory, and it is imperative that the UK government demonstrates that it supports justice and accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes in all circumstances – regardless of whether the perpetrators of those war crimes are deemed to be friend or foe,” he added in a statement sent to Middle East Eye.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with their UK counterparts in London on Friday, greeted by protests organized by British Jewish and Israeli groups, as well as pro-Palestine activists.

Jeers and chants of “shame” could be heard as Netanyahu exited his vehicle and walked towards 10 Downing Street, where he shook hands with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Netanyahu was in the UK to discuss a wide range of issues, including security and the need to strengthen strategic ties between Britain and Israel.

The visit came after a pact signed on Tuesday between the two sides, in which the UK government agreed to oppose use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and pledged to confront “anti-Israel bias” in international institutions, including the United Nations.

The 2030 Roadmap for UK-Israeli Bilateral Relations is primarily aimed at deepening “economic, security and technology ties” between the two countries and tackling the “scourge of antisemitism” and geopolitical issues facing the region, including Iranian influence.

The deal has been condemned as “hypocritical” and “disappointing but not surprising” by Palestinian and international human rights groups.

Israel accused of ‘apartheid’ 

Launched in the UK two years ago, the ICJP says it brings together lawyers, UK politicians and academics who coordinate legal work in jurisdictions around the world to protect Palestinian rights.

The ICJP has written to Sunak and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, calling on the government to urgently recognize that the ICC has jurisdiction with respect to the situation in Palestine, and for the UK as an ICC State Party to refer that situation, and Netanyahu’s role, to the Court, pursuant to Article 14 of the ICC Statute. 

The letter refers to previous findings by the ICC prosecutor that there is a reasonable basis to believe that throughout the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Israeli forces committed a number of war crimes, including the targeting of medical personnel and equipment. 

The letter also refers to a number of submissions previously made to the ICC by the ICJP, in relation to the targeting of journalists and media infrastructure by Israeli forces, as well as the unlawful destruction of Palestinian homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

The ICJP also expressed its “deep concern” about the escalation of violence and human rights violations in Palestine, including Israel’s recent military operations across the occupied West Bank that resulted in the deaths of at least 85 Palestinians since January 2023.

It also denounced Israel’s continued settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian homes and infrastructure in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it said “violates international law and exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

“Most recently, inflammatory statements made by members of the Israeli government in the aftermath of settler pogroms in the Palestinian village of Huwwara have indicated the Israeli government’s intention to continue with their pursuit of these extremist policies of dispossession, land seizures, and ethnic cleansing,” the statement added. 

“These extremist policies continue to further and embolden Israel’s participation in acts which fall within the definition of the crime of apartheid, contrary to articles 7(1)(j) and 7(2)(h) of the ICC statute.”