The Palestinian government has submitted its first batch of evidence of war crimes by Israel to the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), attempting to speed up an ICC inquiry into alleged Israeli abuses committed during the country’s offensive in Gaza last year.
Israel denies allegations of executing any war crimes during the 2014 Gaza war. Israel accuses Hamas - the Islamic Resistance Movement with an associated military wing, the Qassam brigades - which controls the Gaza Strip of atrocities due to it being behind the firing of thousands of rockets at Israel.
After meeting with the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki said, “Palestine is a test for the credibility of international mechanisms ... a test the world cannot afford to fail. Palestine has decided to seek justice, not vengeance,” Maliki said.
Maliki has submitted files on three cases - the Gaza war, Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.
Maliki has agreed with prosecutors on a date for the ICC investigators to visit Palestinian territories, but the date has not been set yet.
“It depends on their ability to enter Palestinian territory without problems,” he said.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed during the conflict in Gaza last summer, while Israel gave the number of deaths on its side as 67 soldiers and seven civilians, health officials said.
In August a ceasefire ended the 50-day war between the Hamas in Gaza and Israel. The Israeli military has been accused of committing grave International abuses of humanitarian law amounting to war crimes during its offensive in the coastal enclave.
ICC prosecutors earlier told Reuters that they will make field trips to both Palestinian and Israeli lands, but formal Israeli permission has not yet been sought, and the court is not able to compel Israel to even give it information.
Israel is not obligated to cooperate with the ICC since it is not a member. However, interfering with the investigation of prosecutors could put Israel in a critical diplomatic situation.
Israel has said the ICC inquiry will negatively affect peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
On Feb. 7, Abbas issued a presidential decree establishing a “High National Committee to Coordinate With the ICC” headed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. According to the decree, the committee is charged with “preparing documents and files to be submitted by the State of Palestine to the ICC through a technical committee headed by the foreign ministry.”
After signing the court’s founding treaty last December, the Palestinian Authority officially joined the ICC in April.
Israel has been an outspoken critic of the ICC, saying the Palestinian Authority is not a state and should never have been admitted as an ICC member.
Hundred and forty-five Israeli settlements
The Palestinian Authority is expected to submit files on 145 Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the ICC in June.
According to Jordanian daily Al Ghad, Khalil Tufakji - head of the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem’s Orient House - said that a team of geographers and legal experts is currently assembling maps, Israeli military orders and aerial photographs documenting settlement construction from 1997 until today as part of a legal case being prepared against Israel.
“The Israeli occupation steals Palestinian land under the pretext of establishing ‘nature reserves,’ ‘green areas,’ or what’s known as ‘state property’ or ‘military zones,'” Tufakji told Al Ghad.
“We will submit 160 files on 145 settlements in the West Bank, encompassing some 400,000 settlers, in addition to 15 settlements in occupied Jerusalem encompassing some 200,000 settlers. Altogether, [the files] will cover over half a million settlers living on land designated for the future Palestinian state.”
After signing the court’s founding treaty last December, the Palestinian Authority officially joined the ICC in April. Israel can be brought before the court even though it is not a member of the ICC.
Tufakji said he and his team were operating on directives from Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas, who has assembled legal teams to collect damning information on Israeli activities.
As a non-official department, the Maps and Survey Department - housed in a 19th century villa which served as the PLO headquarters until 2001 - advises Palestinian ministries on “settlement expansion, land use, and water aquifers” and collecting maps “directly related to land confiscation from 1967 until today.”
“The aerial photos currently obtained by the Palestinians date back to 1997,” Tufakji told Al Ghad. “Information relating to the past two years … was collected based on a request from the legal team,” he added.