ICC reportedly spurned Israelis, met Palestinian group before probe decision

ICC reportedly spurned Israelis, met Palestinian group before probe decision

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda met with Gaza-based legal group some two weeks before announcing ‘basis’ for investigating alleged Israeli war crimes

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

The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor reportedly met with a Palestinian group, but avoided meeting with Israeli organizations, before the court announced Friday that it was preparing to probe alleged war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

The Israeli organizations sought to present prosecutor Fatou Bensouda with information on alleged crimes by the Palestinian Authority, Channel 13 reported on Sunday.

Despite avoiding the Israelis, Bensouda met several times with Palestinian organizations ahead of the decision, with the most recent meeting occurring roughly two weeks ahead of the announcement.

One of the pro-Israel organizations that tried to meet with Bensouda was the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, a human rights group with representatives in Israel, the US and the UK.

The head of the organization, Meir Linzen, told Channel 13 that “for about a year we contacted the prosecutor several times, and didn’t get an answer.”

Linzen said the organization had prepared documents with its legal opinion that the ICC lacked authority to investigate the case, as well as information on the Palestinian Authority’s financial compensation of those involved in carrying out terror attacks against Israelis. The group reached out to Bensouda via both email and phone calls to no avail.

Bensouda met with representatives of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who criticized the ICC for being unfairly biased toward Israel in a tense meeting earlier this month. The center posted footage of the meeting on its Facebook and YouTube pages on December 8.

Lawyer Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Dr. Susan Power, Head of Legal…

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Palestinian Centre for Human Rights‎‏ ב- יום ראשון, 8 בדצמבר 2019

In an earlier report by the ICC, “unfortunately it was rather the Israeli legal version, legal rhetoric. This was not something we expected, and not to be balanced,” Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights told Bensouda.

Bensouda’s office disputed the claims that it had avoided meeting with Israeli groups, saying that it had met regularly with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives throughout its investigation process, the report said.

Also on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting to discuss how to respond to the case at its offices in Jerusalem. The National Security Council, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Israel Defense Forces took part in the talks, the Ynet news site reported.

Responding to the ICC’s claims of alleged war crimes in Gaza, Israeli Air Force personnel fired back at the ICC in an interview broadcast Sunday on Channel 12.

An Air Force commander, who could only be identified by the Hebrew letter “Resh,” said that the air force does all in its power to minimize mistakes.

“The name of the game is precision,” he said. “The amount of times that I personally went out for an attack and got an order to ‘halt fire’ just because we weren’t sure that we’d hit the enemies we intended to — it’s a really big number.”

A plume of smoke rises from the remains of a building west of Gaza City that was targeted by the Israeli Air Force in response to a rocket attack that hit southern Israel earlier in the day on August 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“We do our best to avoid mistakes, although we’re not totally free of mistakes. We learn our lessons and go forward,” another pilot said. “The Hague court isn’t much of a topic of conversation for our squadron.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday blasted the court for its announcement, which he called anti-Semitic.

“Pure anti-Semitism, that’s what the ICC has done, and we will not bow our heads,” Netanyahu said at a Likud party event to mark the first night of the eight-day Hanukkah festival.

The International Criminal Court, “that should know otherwise, has set forth decrees that are just as anti-Semitic as the decrees of the Seleucid Greeks,” said Netanyahu, drawing on the themes of Hanukkah, which celebrates the victory of Jews in second century BCE Jerusalem over an occupying Greek army that had tried to suppress Judaism.

“They [the ICC] say that Jews do not have a right to settle in the Jewish homeland,” the prime minister continued. “They say the Jews do not have a right to live in the land of the Jews, in the Land of Israel. Well, we say, shame on you.

“The light of truth lights here and we will overcome you, just as we overcame other anti-Semites in history,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a support rally in Jerusalem, ahead of the Likud primaries later this week. December 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ICC’s top prosecutor Bensouda announced on Friday that there was a “basis” for proceeding with an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy, the 2014 Gaza war, and the Israeli response to violent protests on the Gaza Strip border.

The ICC also said it would look at the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.

The prosecutor has referred the matter of the probe to the Hague-based tribunal to rule on the specific territory over which it has jurisdiction, as Israel is not a member of the court.

Israel’s cabinet approved a request by Netanyahu on Sunday to classify its deliberations about the ICC’s move and agreed that further discussions on the matter would be held in the high-level security cabinet.

The classification was approved using an article from one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws allowing the government to deem certain deliberations and decisions secret and bar them from being publicized.

Two unnamed ministers told Channel 12 news that publication of Israeli efforts to thwart the ICC’s launching of an investigation could damage the national interests.

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