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Israel submits formal response to ICC as Gantz slams ‘blind and unjust’ decision

Defense minister says he believes ‘truth will come to light,’ a day after the Jewish state decided to officially reject war crimes probe in a letter to Hague-based court

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a cermony in Sha’ar Hagai, marking 80 years since the formation of the Palmach, on April 9, 2021. (Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a cermony in Sha’ar Hagai, marking 80 years since the formation of the Palmach, on April 9, 2021. (Ministry of Defense)

Israel sent a formal response Friday to the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe alleged war crimes by the Jewish state, saying it doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate it.

The text of the formal response hasn’t been published, but the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Thursday that it would say it won’t cooperate with the investigation.

“In the letter, it will also be noted that Israel completely rejects the claims that it is carrying out war crimes,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Israel’s stance has been made known to the court by “central countries and world-renowned experts” and stressed the Jewish state is “committed to the rule of law” and capable of investigating itself.

The decision on how to respond came after two days of talks held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and other top officials.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday criticized the probe as “blind and unjust.”

“I believe the truth will come to light,” Gantz said. “It’s not just a matter of the court’s ‘technical-legal’ lack of jurisdiction, but a matter of justice and morality, of a strict military ethical code, of truth and falsehood, of a democratic state with strong legal institutions, clear values, rules and laws — against a blind and unjust decision.”

“I am sure many countries will understand that there is no room for [such an] investigation, that could harm many other countries in the future,” Gantz said, adding that such an ICC investigation would harm Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and make it difficult to “improve the regional situation.”

The defense minister made his remarks at a ceremony marking 80 years since the formation of the Palmach in Sha’ar Hagai — a site near Jerusalem that commemorates the efforts of the paramilitary’s Harel Brigade during the War of Independence.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a ceremony in Sha’ar Hagai, marking 80 years since the formation of the Palmach, on April 9, 2021. (Ministry of Defense)

Last month, the ICC sent formal notices to Israel and the Palestinian Authority about the impending investigation, giving them a few weeks to seek a deferral by proving they are carrying out their own investigations. The deadline to respond was Friday night.

According to the Ynet news site, officials deliberated whether to tell the court that Israel would investigate the claims against it, but decided that doing so would be a recognition of the ICC’s authority.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is seen through a plexiglass lectern in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

Israeli officials blasted the court over its intention to hold an investigation, with Netanyahu slamming the ICC’s “outrageous” decision during a speech Wednesday for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The Jewish people were defenseless in the face of the Nazis but are no longer so, and have every right to defend themselves from their enemies,” he said.

The ICC, he noted, was formed in the image of the courts of the Nuremberg trials that brought Nazis to justice. But “from Nuremberg to The Hague things were turned upside down. A body formed to defend human rights has become a body that in actuality defends those who trample on human rights.”

Bensouda announced on March 3 that she was opening an investigation into actions committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since 2014. The announcement of the investigation came less than a month after the court ruled it had the jurisdiction to open a probe. A preliminary investigation to settle the justiciability question took more than five years.

The ICC announcement followed a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted non-member observer status in the United Nations General Assembly.

Illustrative: IDF soldiers rush toward a target during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israel has fiercely condemned the investigation, accusing the ICC of bias, noting that it is demonstrably capable of investigating any alleged Israel Defense Forces crimes through its own legal hierarchies, and saying the ICC has no jurisdiction since the Palestinians do not have a state. Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens could be subject to arrest abroad if warrants are issued.

The ICC probe is expected to focus on three main areas: the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas; Israeli settlement policy; and the 2018 Great March of Return protests, a series of violent demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel that left dozens of Palestinians dead.

The probe will also look at terrorist rocket fire from Gaza at civilian areas in Israel.

Israeli observers noted the significance of the timing of the investigation’s span: On June 12, 2014, Hamas terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank. Bensouda’s investigation — based on the request submitted by the so-called State of Palestine — is set to focus on events beginning from the following day.

The brutal terror attack, which horrified Israelis and drew international condemnation, was a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the fighting in Gaza later that summer. With the investigation set to consider events beginning on June 13, 2014, the crime could be excluded from the court’s investigation.

People gather for a vigil for the three missing Israeli teens outside of the Israeli Consulate on June 16, 2014 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Bensouda is to be replaced as prosecutor in June by British lawmaker Karim Khan. Israel reportedly hopes Khan may be less hostile or even cancel the probe.

Last week, the Biden administration lifted sanctions and a visa ban on Bensouda and another senior court official, which former US president Donald Trump imposed last year after she launched an investigation into alleged war crimes by US military personnel in Afghanistan.

The new administration has continued to oppose the Afghan probe, as well as the investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories by Israel and Palestinian terror groups. The US, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC.

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