ICC seeks arrest of Israeli leadership over war crime allegations

ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan (center). Photo: International Criminal Court

In a historic move, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor announced today that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three leaders of Hamas.

  • The ICC’s pursuit of arrest warrants is independent of the ongoing case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) involving allegations by South Africa that Israel has violated the Genocide Convention in its actions in Gaza.
  • The ICJ, a civil tribunal distinct from the criminal-focused ICC, held its first hearing on this matter in January and issued provisional measures that Israel has largely ignored.
  • ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan had previously received a “mob-style” threat from US politicians, namely from a gang of 12 Republicans led by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. In an official letter, the pro-Israel politicians warned of sanctions for Kahn and his family should he pursue the arrest of figures like Netanyahu.

Added context: In a statement Monday, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant of conspiring to commit “crimes against humanity” against the Palestinian people.

  • On the basis of evidence collected and examined by my Office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin NETANYAHU, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Yoav GALLANT, the Minister of Defence of Israel, bear criminal responsibility for the following war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 8 October 2023,” read the statement.
  • “Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population. That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any State of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law. Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal,” it continued.
  • The prosecutor has officially charged Israeli leadership with the starvation of civilians, cruel treatment, murder, attacks against civilian populations, persecution, and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, punishable by international law.

By the numbers: The development comes amid increased violence in Gaza, as Israel continues to hit largely civilian areas and threaten an expanded operation in Rafah.

  • The Palestinian Health Ministry has reported over 100 Palestinian deaths in the past 24 hours due to increased Israeli attacks.
  • Doctors Without Borders has reported that al-Awda Hospital, located near the Jabalia refugee camp, has run out of drinking water. Critical humanitarian aid crossings at Rafah and Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) remain blocked.
  • Since the outbreak of violence on October 7, Israeli attacks on Gaza have resulted in 35,562 deaths and 79,652 injuries. On the 13th, Israel alleged the death toll was far lower, offering their own low-ball estimate of casualties for the first time since the war began.

The conversation: Many have taken to social media to highlight the historical significance behind the arrest warrants while commenting on the damage such allegations could inflict on Israel and its closest allies, dwindling power and prestige.

  • “The ICC has issued arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israel’s defence minister…Israel’s reputation has been absolutely shattered since October 7. To a whole generation, the Jewish state will forever be synonymous with brutality and genocide,” said conservative influencer Keith Woods on X/Twitter.
  • “If, according to the ICC, top Israeli officials are guilty of such grievous crimes as Extermination, Murder, and Intentionally Attacking Civilians, what is the criminal responsibility for other countries’ top officials who armed/supplied the perpetrators?” asked American journalist Michael Tracey on X/Twitter.
  • “The ICC prosecutor says Netanyahu and Gallant are criminally responsible for seeking to exterminate the people of Gaza, including by cutting off food and water. Time then to arrest Western leaders like Biden and Sunak who’ve actively helped Israel carry out these crimes against humanity” said award-winning journalist Jonathan Cook.

Why it’s important: The arrest of top Israeli leadership over serious allegations of war crimes could result in a drastic shift in the geopolitical climate.

  • While Israel, like Russia and the United States, is not a member of the ICC, the court has jurisdiction over Gaza, occupied East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, following the Palestinian leaders’ acceptance of the Rome Statute in 2015. The ICC, headquartered in The Hague, prosecutes individuals for severe crimes under international law, including war crimes and genocide.
  • Both Israel and South Africa are signatories to the United Nations Genocide Convention, which mandates member states to prevent and punish acts of genocide. This treaty defines genocide as acts intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
  • The ICC’s actions reflect an ongoing international effort to address alleged war crimes and hold accountable those responsible amid one of the most severe conflicts in recent history.

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