The decision was welcomed by the Palestinians and decried by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused the Hague-based court of “legal persecution."

Palestinian territories, including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Palestinian territories, including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, have been under Israeli occupation since 1967. (TRTWorld)

The International Criminal Court has ruled that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for a criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.

The decision prompted swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and again rejected its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling.

The ICC judges said their decision was based on rules in the Hague-based court's founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.

"The Chamber's ruling is for the sole purpose of defining the Court's territorial jurisdiction," the Court said.

Status of Palestine

The court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in December 2019 there was "a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."

She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

She said she intended to open an investigation – as soon as judges ruled on whether the situation fell under the court's jurisdiction or not.

In a majority ruling published Friday night, the judges said it does.

"The Court's territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine ... extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," they said.

That Palestine's status under international law is still uncertain does not matter, the judges said, as it has been admitted to membership of parties to the court.

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Reaction

On Saturday, Turkey's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that it welcomed the ruling.

"We welcome the ruling of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. This decision of the ICC is a meaningful step towards holding Israel accountable for its crimes in the Palestinian territories and identifying those who are responsible for these crimes."

It added that the "ICC decision will also contribute to the implementation of the Resolution on the Protection of the Palestinian Civilian Population, which was adopted at the UN General Assembly, under the leadership of Turkey during its Summit Presidency of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation."

The statement also said the support from the international community to ruling is important as will become a deterrent to "Israel's excessive and disproportionate use of force against the Palestinian people."

Human Rights Watch called the decision "pivotal" and said it "finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half century of impunity," said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.

"It's high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice."

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ruling as "a victory for justice and humanity."

"This decision (of the ICC) is a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families," Shtayyeh said, according to the official Wafa news agency.

The move is a "message to perpetrators" who "will not go unpunished", Shtayyeh added, calling on the ICC to speed up legal proceedings over the 2014 conflict in the Gaza, Palestinian prisoners and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "the court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead is pursuing Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime, that sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the tribunal."

He added Israel would "protect all of our citizens and soldiers" from prosecution.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a "historic day for the principle of accountability."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as "an important development that contributes in protecting the Palestinian people."

"We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people," said Abu Zuhri, who is currently outside Gaza.

US says reviewing ruling

The United States has "serious concerns" about the ICC's effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, adding the US government was reviewing the ruling.

ICC prosecutor Bensouda was expected to react later on Friday.

The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC and its mission. 

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said US President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the ICC's independence.

"It's important to remember that the ICC investigation would also target Palestinian perpetrators of war crimes in the context of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, especially in the Gaza Strip," Dakwar said on Twitter. 

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies