Israeli leaders must know they can go to prison

Ali Abunimah 22 December 2019
On Saturday I appeared on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story to discuss the decision by the International Criminal Court prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Palestine.

Does this mean Palestinians can finally expect justice?
The other guests were international lawyer Toby Cadman and Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Israeli government.
Watch the video above.
After a five-year preliminary investigation, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, announced Friday that there is “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.”
But she said she won’t start the investigation – which could lead to indictments and arrest warrants for Israeli leaders – until court judges decide on the extent of the territory over which the court has jurisdiction.
Cadman stressed that Bensouda has said she has jurisdiction and does not need further permission to open an investigation. Rather, she is seeking to clarify how far that jurisdiction goes.
I emphasized that the heart of the matter is justice for Palestinians like Zakiya Maadi. She lost her son Bassam, her daughter-in-law Iman, and her young granddaughters Hala and Jana, when Israel bombed their home in Gaza on 1 August 2014.
That was Black Friday, when Israel launched massive indiscriminate shelling of Rafah using warplanes and thousands of highly inaccurate artillery shells.
The family also lost two more members, including Yousef, Zakiya’s toddler grandson.
The Maadi family, I noted, is just one of almost 150 families who lost three or more members during the Israeli attack that summer.
In total, Israel killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, over 51 days – an average of 11 children per day.
Yet the 2014 attack on Gaza is just one aspect of an investigation that will include Israel’s crimes across the occupied West Bank, including its construction of settlements.
The court may also investigate alleged crimes by Palestinian resistance groups, such as the firing of rockets from Gaza.
I argued that Palestinian groups are responding to and resisting the assaults of an occupying power armed by the United States and the European Union, and that actions by Palestinians are unlikely to rise to a level of gravity that should concern the court.
I also noted that the vast majority of the thousands of Palestinians killed and injured in Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza were civilians. By contrast, the vast majority of Israelis killed – 67 out of 73 – were soldiers.
Sabel offered Israeli government talking points in an effort to wriggle out of any international accountability – including the claim that West Bank land Israel has occupied and seized for colonial settlement are “not under the jurisdiction” of Palestinians.
Cadman dismissed Sabel’s claim that Gaza is no longer under Israeli occupation as a “ludicrous argument.”
I noted that an ICC investigation and prosecutions are important not just to account for past crimes, but because Israel’s crimes are ongoing and future crimes must be deterred.
Israeli politicians, civil servants, generals and soldiers should have to think twice before they participate in these crimes, knowing that by doing so there is a very real chance they could end up in a prison cell in The Hague.