The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has announced she will launch a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, prompting a fierce backlash from Israel.
In a statement on Friday, Fatou Bensouda said the impending probe could result in charges against Israelis and Palestinians.
“I am satisfied that … war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” she said.
Bensouda added that because the Palestinian Territories had requested the intervention of the court she did not need to request approval from judges to start an investigation.
However, she has asked the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to rule on what exactly it can investigate.
Furious, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed back, claiming the “court has no jurisdiction”. Israel is not a member of the court.
“This is a dark day for truth and justice. It is a baseless and outrageous decision,” he said.
Israeli’s foreign ministry meanwhile said, “the Prosecutor has been influenced by Palestinian manipulation, which aims to weaponise the Court.”
“The attempt to turn a political issue into a legal one places a serious obstacle in the way of resolving the conflict,” it added.
Earlier that day, fearing an impending investigation, Israel’s attorney-general published a legal opinion that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the West Bank or in Gaza.
It argued that only sovereign states can refer the situation to the ICC and that Israel has a valid claim over the Palestinian Territories.
However, Palestine, although not universally recognised as a sovereign state, became a recognised member of the ICC in January 2015.
The international community has widely discredited Israel’s claims over Palestinian lands.
The investigation is not limited to examining Israel’s actions but will explore alleged crimes committed by all sides including Islamist militant group Hamas.
Bensouda said she has now asked judges in the pre-trial chamber to outline the geographic scope of an investigation.
“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.”
Her submission to the pre-trial chamber includes specific mentions of Israel’s use of deadly force against protesters in Gaza, willful killing, Israeli settlements and intentionally directing attacks on protected persons and objects like hospitals and medics during different military operations.
On the Palestinian side, she mentioned the attacks on civilians perpetrated by Hamas and other militant groups, their alleged use of human shields, as well as the deprivation of fair trial, torture and inhuman treatment.
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