More than 180 prominent Israelis, including 10 Israel Prize laureates, have signed a letter advising the International Criminal Court to work with human rights groups, not the state.

While Israel continues to force Palestinians from their homes in the famous East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah based on a court eviction order, some prominent members of the country’s intellectual elite have advised the International Criminal Court (ICC) not to rely on Tel Aviv for its investigation over the state’s alleged war crimes. 

In its landmark decision, the ICC ruled on February 5 that the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer, could investigate possible Israeli war crimes committed during the country’s Protective Edge Operation of 2014 conducted in Gaza, a Palestinian enclave. In March, Bensouda declared that she will launch her investigation over Israeli war crimes in Palestine. 

The prosecutor will also look at other allegations of Israeli war crimes committed when Tel Aviv used disproportionate force in response to the Palestinian Gaza Right of Return Protests in 2018. The ICC’s decision additionally paves the way for the investigation of Israel’s expanding illegal settlement activities across occupied territories, as well as other problematic conduct.

In its investigations, the ICC usually tries to act in coordination with countries, allowing them to conduct their own probes. But Israeli intellectuals have clearly said in their letter that the ICC should not rely upon Tel Aviv’s conclusions on that matter despite their “respect” for the court’s required standard procedures.   

“We wish to assert at this early stage our deep suspicion, based on past experience, that the State of Israel, including its investigative and legal institutions, has no intention to seriously investigate complaints of war crimes,” said the letter signed by 185 Israeli personalities, including 10 Israel Prize laureates, 35 professors, authors, intellectuals and members of the army.  

“Our suspicion is backed by a very large number of documented cases ostensibly involving war crimes committed by Israel in the Occupied Territories in gross violation of international law. Most of these cases have not been investigated at all, and a few have been concluded with acquittal following a superficial and inadequate investigation,” the letter added. 

As a result, the letter recommended the ICC to work with Israeli human rights groups to get a better picture on the possible war crimes of the Israeli state. 

ICC Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends the trial for Malian militant Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at the ICC in the Hague, the Netherlands July 8,2019.
ICC Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends the trial for Malian militant Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at the ICC in the Hague, the Netherlands July 8,2019. (Eva Plevier / Reuters Archive)

Outrage in Sheikh Jarrah

What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah might also amount to a war crime, a recent EU statement suggested, seeing it as an “alarming” development. “Such unilateral actions are illegal under international humanitarian law and only fuel tensions on the ground,” it said.

Despite being enforced by a court decision, many Palestinians and experts see the Sheikh Jarrah eviction as another expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, which amount to a war crime in their eyes. 

Israeli intellectuals have also confirmed that view. 

“Sadly, despite Israel’s image as a state that maintains a proper and professional legal system, the reality paints a different picture – harsh, discriminatory, and outrageous,” the letter pointed out. 

“The law imposed on the Occupied Territories and the manner in which it is applied by the Israeli enforcement and security agencies effectively allow ongoing acts of moral injustice and prima facie war crimes,” the letter said. 

The Israeli state “vehemently” refuses to acknowledge committing any possible war crimes across occupied territories. But its settlement activities in Palestinian territories have been internationally recognised as illegal acts, — this will also be investigated by the ICC prosecutor, specifically whether they meet the criteria of war crimes or not. 

Israel is not a member of the ICC and as a result, it claims that the court has no jurisdiction over the country. However, the ICC argues that it has jurisdiction over occupied territories, which have been internationally and legally recognised as part of a future Palestinian state. 

“In our assessment, the many acts of discrimination, severe restrictions upon freedom of movement, appropriation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of Israeli settlement, arbitrary collective punishments (such as curfews and blockades), unwarranted arrests ... and the abject failure of the military courts to provide even a semblance of justice – all these and more are eminently worthy of investigation by your Court,” advised the letter of Israeli intellectuals to the ICC.