Hostages’ families file Hamas war crimes claim at ICC: ‘Genocide can’t go unpunished’

Delegation of Hostages and Missing Families Forum submits complaint at The Hague; wife of captive: ‘Today’s Valentine’s Day and the love of my life is in Gaza’

Yamit Ashkenazi (R), whose sister Doron Steinbrecher is held in Gaza, speaks at a rally at The Hague, February 14, 2024 (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)
Yamit Ashkenazi (R), whose sister Doron Steinbrecher is held in Gaza, speaks at a rally at The Hague, February 14, 2024 (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

A delegation of family members of Israeli hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza filed complaints of war crimes against Hamas leaders at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Wednesday, demanding that the atrocities not go unpunished.

The ICC is separate from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where Israel has been accused by South Africa of committing genocide in Gaza. While the ICJ deals with nations, the ICC prosecutes individuals.

Some 100 family members of hostages were part of the delegation, along with several dozen lawyers who helped draft the legal submission to the ICC, which is empowered to prosecute individuals for serious violations of the Geneva Conventions that amount to war crimes, if they are citizens of signatory states and entities, as the Palestinian Authority is.

Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and therefore sees itself as not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

The families arrived on buses, many of them clutching photos of their loved ones and small bunches of tulips.

Waiting were a few hundred supporters who braved rain and strong winds as they waved Israeli flags and chanted: “Bring them home, now!”

The head of the legal team at the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, Dr. Shelly Aviv Yeini, said that filing the claim with the court was not only an important step for those seeking justice for the victims, but would also increase pressure for the hostages to be released.

Lawyer Shelly Aviv Yeini speaks at The Hague, February 14, 2024 (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

“These crimes, including genocide, hostage taking, enforced disappearance, torture and sexual violence cannot and should not go unpunished,” Aviv Yeini said.

“Criminals must be held criminally responsible for their atrocities. We rely on the ability of the International Criminal Court to bring justice to the hostages and their families,” she said. “This is part of the mechanism of exerting pressure to release the hostages and encouraging countries around the world to take legal action against those responsible for these heinous acts. This represents international recognition that holding hostages is always illegal.”

Chief Prosecutor of the ICC Karim Kahn has already said he opened an investigation into alleged Hamas war crimes, but families hope that the submission by the hostages’ families will further spur him to advance the investigation and issue arrest warrants against senior Hamas leaders.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas during its brutal October 7 assault remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops, including two this week, and the bodies of 11 hostages have been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

People demonstrate near the International Crime Court after hostages’ families filed a complaint, Feb. 14, 2024 (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The delegation of the hostage families presented its legal submission to the ICC, which included 1,000 pages of eyewitness testimony and evidence of the crimes committed by terrorists on October 7.

The complaint, filed by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum along with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, included charges of “kidnapping, crimes of sexual violence, torture and other serious allegations,” against the terror group.

After the complaint was lodged with the court, the delegation marched with hundreds of supporters, as family members gave speeches calling for the immediate release of the hostages.

Graphic images of the attacks were displayed on big screens and family members took to the stage to recount harrowing stories of October 7.

Raz Ben Ami, who was kidnapped to Gaza from her Kibbutz Be’eri home on October 7 and released during a November truce, spoke of her husband Ohad, who is still held hostage in the Strip.

“Today is Valentine’s Day, and Ohad, my husband, the love of my life, and the father of my girls, is still being held hostage in Gaza. I think about him every day and every night,” Ben Ami said. “On the 7th of October, when hundreds of terrorists invaded my kibbutz, my paradise became a living hell. My husband and I were kidnapped from our beds, in pajamas, and brutally taken into Gaza.

“My love, I hope you can hear me, I hope you can feel me. I am here, waiting for you. We came here today to demand justice. The world cannot stay silent. Every second my husband is there is a danger to his life. He has no time,” Ben Ami said.

Raz Ben Ami, who was held hostage in Gaza and whose husband Ohad remains captive in the Strip, speaks at The Hague, February 14, 2024 (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

Yamit Ashkenazi, whose sister Doron Steinbrecher is held in Gaza and was seen in a propaganda video published by Hamas last month, called for the hostages to be immediately released.

“They came into our homes, violated us, raped us and killed us,” she said.

“They took my sister from her bed, from the place that was supposed to be the safest place in the world for her,” she told the crowd.

“The world must wake up. The world needs to open its eyes, to look us in the eyes, and begin acknowledging what we went through,” Ashkenazi said. “The world needs to know that my sister is in a tunnel somewhere, cold, hungry, without medication, and exposed to sexual violence for 131 days.”

Udi Goren said Hamas gunmen shot his cousin dead and took the body to Gaza.

“We are here not as the State of Israel. We are here as the families of those who were hurt by the terror of October 7,” Goren said.

“We are doing this for all of Israel, for all Jews around the world and for everyone who believes that our region deserves a better future,” he said.

“Once we are done with [getting the hostages home], we must deal with the second goal, which is securing Israel’s future,” he said. “And not just Israel’s future, the future of our region, finding a resolution for how we and the Palestinians can continue co-existing in the same region peacefully.”

People demonstrate near the International Crime Court after hostages’ families filed a complaint, Feb. 14, 2024 (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The rally at The Hague came hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out sending an Israeli delegation for further hostage negotiations in Cairo, without consulting the war’s foremost decision-making forum.

The decision prompted outrage among representatives of hostages’ families, and reportedly angered war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot of the National Unity party.

Netanyahu’s office said no advancements could be made in hostage negotiations until Hamas softens its “delusional” demands, which are said to include an end to the war and the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of murders.

Agencies and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: