PARIS – Top Palestinian officials have accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza, filing a complaint Friday to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Palestinian Justice Minister Saleem Al-Saqqa and Ismail Jabr, the Gaza court public prosecutor, started legal proceedings via a Paris-based lawyer over the 18 days of fighting between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces that Gaza officials say has left over 800 Palestinians dead – including hundreds of civilians. Thirty seven Israelis have been killed, 35 of them soldiers.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in an attempt to thwart Hamas rocket fire on civilians in the Jewish state — over 2,000 rockets have been fired in the past 18 days — and in order to uncover and destroy a network of tunnels which were set to be used to carry out terror activities on the Israeli side of the border; six IDF soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from the tunnels in five attacks over the past two weeks; 20 Hamas gunmen were killed.
The Palestinian officials accused Israel of war crimes, which, they say, under the ICC statutes includes “crime of apartheid,” “attacks against civilians,” ‘”excessive loss of human life” and “crime of colonization.”
If the legal complaint is accepted it could give the Palestinians the first realistic chance of bringing a war crimes case against Israel.
But that’s not a given. To process the complaint, the Hague-based court must first rule if it has jurisdiction in the Palestinian Authority. The territory isn’t a UN member but became an observer in 2012, a status the ICC chief prosecutor said was required for Palestinians to sign up to the court.
Some experts don’t expect the ICC to recognize the Palestinian proceedings.
“This is more of a symbolic thing. I’d be surprised if The Hague accepts the complaint. I can’t see the ICC summoning up the Israeli leaders for evidence,” said Mattia Toaldo, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“[Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas gave assurances in 2012 to several countries that they would not use their UN status to go to the ICC,” he added.
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was not aware of the move — filed early Friday morning — but said the Israeli forces have not broken the law.
“The complaint is something new that we will have to study,” he said, adding that “the Israeli military is working 100 percent within the dictates of international humanitarian law.”