Palestinians to submit data on settlement expansion to ICC this month

Cartographer says maps and aerial photos of Israeli activity in West Bank and East Jerusalem will be sent to The Hague to bolster legal case

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

File: Construction project. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
File: Construction project. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority will submit files on 145 Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the International Criminal Court in The Hague this month, a Palestinian cartographer said on Monday.

Speaking to Jordanian daily al-Ghad, Khalil Tufakji, head of the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem’s Orient House, said that a team of geographers and legal experts is currently assembling maps, Israeli military orders and aerial photographs documenting settlement construction from 1997 until today as part of a legal case being prepared against Israel.

“The Israeli occupation steals Palestinian land under the pretext of establishing ‘nature reserves,’ ‘green areas,’ or what’s known as ‘state property’ or ‘military zones,'” Tufakji told al-Ghad. “We will submit 160 files on 145 settlements in the West Bank, encompassing some 400,000 settlers, in addition to 15 settlements in occupied Jerusalem encompassing some 200,000 settlers. Altogether, [the files] will cover over half a million settlers living on land designated for the future Palestinian state.”

The Palestinian Authority officially joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1, after having signed the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, last December. Though Israel is not a member of the court, cases could be brought before it against Israeli individuals suspected of war crimes committed on Palestinian territory. In January, the court’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the Gaza Conflict last summer.

Israel has dubbed the Palestinians’ joining the court as “scandalous,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that it turns the ICC “into part of the problem and not part of the solution.” Meanwhile, an Israeli non-governmental organization has begun collecting incriminating information on Palestinian leaders as a deterrent measure at the ICC.

Tufakji said he and his team were operating on directives from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who assembled legal teams to collect damning information on Israeli activities. On February 7, Abbas issued a presidential decree establishing a “High National Committee to Coordinate With the ICC” headed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. According to the decree, the committee is charged with “preparing documents and files to be submitted by the State of Palestine to the ICC through a technical committee headed by the foreign ministry.”

While not an official government organ, the Maps and Survey Department — housed in a 19th century villa which served as the PLO headquarters until 2001 — advises Palestinian ministries on “settlement expansion, land use, and water aquifers” and collects maps “directly related to land confiscation from 1967 until today.”

“The areal photos currently obtained by the Palestinians date back to 1997,” Tufakji told al-Ghad. “Information relating to the past two years … was collected based on a request from the legal team.”

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