The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled it has jurisdiction over the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, paving the way for the tribunal’s prosecutor to open a war crimes investigation.
Judges said on Friday their decision was based on jurisdictional rules in The Hague-based court’s founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.
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“The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.
Israel, which is not a member of the court, has rejected its jurisdiction.
The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in December 2019 there was “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.
Bensouda named the Israeli army and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.
She asked judges to rule on whether the situation fell under the court’s jurisdiction, before a formal investigation would be opened.
In a majority ruling published on Friday, the judges said yes.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ICC for its ruling.
“This decision [of the ICC] is a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families,” Shtayyeh said, according to the official Wafa news agency.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important development that contributes in protecting the Palestinian people”.
“We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Zuhri, who is currently outside Gaza.
‘Perversion of justice’
Israel and the United States reacted with furious condemnation of the court when the prosecutor made the announcement.
Israel accused the International Criminal Court of “pure anti-Semitism” after it announced its jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
“When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a recorded statement.
“The court established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people.”
He also accused the court of having a double standard. “The ICC refuses to investigate brutal dictatorships like Iran and Syria, who commit horrific atrocities almost daily,” he said.
“I assure you we will fight this perversion of justice with all our might.”
The US said it has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, state department spokesman Ned Price said, adding the US government was reviewing the ruling.
The administration of then-US President Donald Trump slapped sanctions on the prosecutor and another senior ICC official in September.
The United States, which is not a member of the ICC, inflicted the measures on the court after earlier visa bans on Bensouda and others failed to head off the court’s war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan.
The Palestinians have asked the court to look into Israeli actions during its 2014 assault against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem.
The international community widely considers the settlements to be illegal under international law.