Israeli Leaders Slam, Palestinians Hail, ICC Decision to Investigate Alleged War Crimes

Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021. Photo: ICC-CPI/Handout via Reuters.

A host of Israeli leaders weighed in on Wednesday in response to the news that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to open an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the court’s ruling “the essence of antisemitism” and “the essence of hypocrisy.”

“The tribunal established to prevent a recurrence of the atrocities that the Nazis committed against the Jewish people is now turning against the state of the Jewish people,” he charged, “and, of course, does not say a word against Iran and Syria and other tyrannical regimes that commit real war crimes.”

The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement confirming that her office would open an investigation “respecting the Situation in Palestine,” which had been expected after a Feb. 5 panel ruled that the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem were within the court’s jurisdiction.

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“The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office,” she said, with an apparent focus on Israel’s conduct in the 2014 war against the terror group Hamas, as well as its settlement activity in the West Bank.

N12 reported that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the decision “outrageous.”

He said Israel will not accept attacks on “the exercise of our right and duty to protect our citizens. The State of Israel is a strong, Jewish, and democratic state that knows how to defend itself and also investigate itself if necessary.”

He added that Israel is “proud of our soldiers” and “we will be vigilant to ensure that they are not harmed by the decision.”

Other Israeli politicians also weighed in, including rivals of Netanyahu and members of the opposition.

Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the New Hope party, called the decision “despicable” and “morally distorted.”

Ayelet Shaked, one of the leaders of the Yamina party, also called the decision antisemitic and charged that the Court “overstepped its authority.”

As one dissenting voice, Nitzan Horowitz — leader of the left-wing Meretz party — blamed “the settlements and the right” for the Court’s ruling. “Continued construction in the settlements and threats of annexation,” he said, make Israel “guilty of war crimes.”

CNN reported that the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry hailed the investigation as “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve.”

Hamas also welcomed the ICC’s decision and defended its conduct in the 2014 Gaza war, according to Reuters.

Reuters had reported Tuesday that Israel is already moving to protect its soldiers and officials against ICC persecution.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz — who was IDF chief of staff during the 2014 war and is a likely target of the ICC probe — said Israel is “working” in many areas to “influence” the Court.

Asked how many Israelis could be targeted, he said, “I guess several hundred, but we will take care of everybody.”

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