On February 5, 2021, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled 2-1 that “the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, a State party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” In effect, this rubber-stamped the ICC Prosecutor’s decision to open an investigation against Israel.
International, Palestinian, and Israeli NGOs celebrated the decision, urged the ICC to launch a formal investigation into Israel, and demonized Israel with allegations of “apartheid” and “crimes against humanity.” Confirming the politicized nature of the ICC campaign, these reactions overwhelmingly singled out Israel as targets for prosecution and downplayed or completely ignored Palestinian culpability for international crimes. In addition, these NGOs immorally equated the Hamas terrorist organization with the IDF and Israeli government officials. The groups portrayed Jews living in the Old City of Jerusalem among other areas of Jewish historical significance as a “war crime” and graver than indiscriminate rocket attacks, suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings, targeting Israeli civilians.
In March 2020, NGO Monitor and other organizations filed an amicus brief with the ICC detailing why the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Israelis and why the Prosecutor’s claims in this regard are flawed. Our arguments highlighting why UN resolutions do not provide a legal basis for the Court to exercise jurisdiction were echoed in the dissenting opinion.
NGO Reactions to the ICC’s Decision
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- On February 5, 2021, HRW Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, tweeted, “The International Criminal Court approves jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestine, meaning victims of Israeli and Palestinian war crimes may finally have a chance for justice. Urgent now to defend the rule of law from the usual detractors.”
- On February 8, 2021, Roth tweeted, “As the International Criminal Court approves investigation of war crimes in Palestine, Israel’s big vulnerability is its settlements: 1. They are clear war crimes (transferring population to occupied territory). 2. Israel hasn’t prosecuted anyone for them.”
- On February 5, 2021, Balkees Jarrah, Associate International Justice Director at HRW, said, “This pivotal ruling opens the door for an investigation that may lead to those most responsible for serious crimes one day answering for their actions at a fair trial…It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice.”
- HRW’s Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, tweeted Jarrah’s statement, adding, “After a half century of impunity, today’s @IntlCrimCourt ruling confirming its jurisdiction over Palestine a major breakthrough. Perpetrators of grave abuses, be warned. Next step: formal probe.”
- On February 5, 2021, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Saleh Hijazi said, “The perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity have evaded justice for more than half a century. An ICC investigation marks a long-overdue step towards justice for victims… (emphasis added).
- Hijazi worked as a public relations officer for the PA, posted pictures of terrorists on his Facebook profile, and engaged in BDS activity.
- Amnesty also quotes Gaza residents claiming that “the ICC represents our only hope to achieving long-denied accountability and justice,” and rejecting Israeli legal processes. For example, one interviewee, Tawfiq Abu Jame’ said, “We can never achieve justice in Israeli courts…”
- On February 5, 2021, Amnesty tweeted, “All states who claim to support universal and non-selective international justice have a shared interest in supporting the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction over the situation in Palestine.”
- On February 6, 2021, Rights Forum Director Gerard Jonkman said, “War crimes cannot go unpunished…it is crucial that perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice. And that the victims of the crimes, in this case mainly Palestinians, but also Israelis, receive satisfaction.”
- On February 6, 2021, the Forum wrote on Facebook, “The Criminal Court finds that it has jurisdiction in occupied Palestinian territory. With this, the last obstacle to an investigation into war crimes has been taken.”
- On February 5, 2021, EuroMed Rights tweeted, “@EuroMedRights welcomes major decision by @IntlCrimCourt in favour of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the situation in #Palestine….This is a crucial breakthrough for Palestinian victims of human rights abuses that have seen their hopes for accountability, justice and reparations denied for decades, both domestically and at international level…” (emphasis added)
- On February 8, 2021, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) issued a statement in which it wrote, “The decision of Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court… is a vital step forward towards achieving legal accountability and justice for the many victims, survivors and their families of alleged serious international crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces and their military and political leadership…The recurrent serious violations that have egregiously harmed thousands of civilians in Gaza… must be met with an effective accountability deterrent that only the international justice avenue of the International Criminal Court can realistically provide.”
- On February 5, 2021, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) Advocacy and Campaigns Manager Rohan Talbot tweeted, “Thinking of all the incredible Palestinian human rights advocates whose years of dedication and fortitude has brought us to this point. And more importantly the victims still awaiting justice. They have weathered years of intimidation, smears, false accusations and outright threats for seeking justice.”
- On February 5, 2021, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) wrote, “We applaud today’s decision…In the wake of attempts by the Trump administration to intimidate and punish the ICC prosecutor for moving to open an investigation into Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, today’s decision is a powerful and necessary assertion of the rule of law…”
- On February 5, 2021, Katherine Gallagher, a Senior Staff Attorney at CCR, serving as legal representative to Palestinians before the Court, tweeted, “…ICC territorial jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel, i.e, Gaza & West Bank including East Jerusalem. Onwards to investigation.”
The Palestinian BDS National Committee
- On February 6, 2021, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) called on the ICC to “fulfil its mandate under the Rome Statute, and investigate Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in the OPT, including the crime of apartheid” (emphasis added).
- On February 6-7, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) retweeted and quoted the BNC’s comments on the ICC’s decision: “’Palestinians cannot afford any more crimes and suffering,’ BDS said in a statement. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied. The ICC must hold Israel accountable for its decades of crimes against the Palestinian people.’”
- On February 6, 2021, Al-Mezan, Al-Haq, Al-Dameer1 and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)2, published a press release stating, “…it is imperative that the Prosecutor include acts of apartheid in the scope of her investigation…The decision confirmed the State of Palestine… as a full and legitimate State Party to the Rome Statute, and the entirety of the oPt as within the scope of territorial jurisdiction for investigation into international crimes…” (emphasis added)
- The organizations stressed that they will continue their “tireless” cooperation with the ICC, having submitted “six substantial communications and thousands of eyewitness files to the Office of the Prosecutor…”
- In a February 6, 2021 Al-Ghad TV interview, Al-Mezan CEO Issam Younis said, “What is important about the decision is that it opens the door now, fully, towards investigation… There is no choice but to put on trial those who committed, ordered and implemented crimes, these are war crimes…”
- In a February 6, 2021 Al-Jazeera interview, Al-Haq Head of Legal Research and Advocacy Susan Power said, “This is a green light today… and the prosecutor can proceed now with these investigations.”
- Power added, “We have, as a coalition of Palestinian organizations, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, PCHR and Al-Dameer…since 2015, submitted thousands and thousands of documents and files to the office of the prosecutor… what we are really looking at here are very grave crimes, including even the crime of apartheid… these types of crimes of a massive scale… have been implemented even as far back as the founding of the state of Israel…” (emphases added)
- On February 7, Al-Haq published a series of tweets publicizing paragraphs from the ICC’s decision and quotes from its joint press release with Al-Mezan, Al-Dameer and PCHR.
- Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P) Digital Communication Manager and GlobalGiving Senior Community Engagement Associate Miranda Cleland tweeted, “Huge news: the International Criminal Court just announced that the ICC prosecutor has jurisdiction to open an investigation against Israel for alleged crimes in the occupied Palestinian territory…@DCIPalestine submitted observations to the ICC last March urging that Israeli forces be held accountable for war crimes committed against Palestinian children.”
- DCI-P Senior Advisor for Policy and Advocacy, Brad Parker, also tweeted the ICC’s decision.
- On February 5, 2021, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and chair of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), Huwaida Arraf, tweeted, “Let the war crimes investigations FINALLY begin. Biden must rescind Trump Executive Order sanctioning ICC and forego any attempt to impede investigations and deny justice to victims…”
- On February 7, 2021, Breaking the Silence tweeted, “…The ICC’s ruling is just a symptom. The underlying problem is that the government has failed, not only by ignoring the warning signs, but also by continuing its immoral policy of entrenching the occupation & advancing de facto annexation on the ground.”
(Donors include: Switzerland (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs), European Union, Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Bread for the World-EED (Germany), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Christian Aid (UK), UNDP, and Open Society Foundation).
- On February 6, 2021, Adalah posted on Facebook a link to Adalah’s reports concerning “the policy of escaping punishment and complete lack of accountability on Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinians.”
- On February 7, 2021, Adalah Justice Project (AJP) tweeted, “You expect state actors facing war crime investigations by the ICC to defend themselves by asserting their innocence. But to accuse the ICC of anti-semitism as your main defense demonstrates how rare it is for Israel to face scrutiny.”
- On February 5, 2021, B’Tselem shared an Independent article referencing the organization: “Israeli rights group B’Tselem also welcomed what it called a ‘landmark ICC decision’. It hoped [it] would bring about ‘an end for impunity’ and have a ‘restraining effect on Israeli actions.’”
- On February 7, 2021, founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, Daniel Seidemann, tweeted, “There are a lot of good folks who bristle at the word ‘apartheid’ and are deeply troubled by the ICC. Not long ago, so was I. But Israel is on a trajectory that makes the use of terms like ‘war crime’ and ‘apartheid’ inescapable to anyone with decency. Help us stop this now.”
- In another tweet on the same day, Seidemann wrote, “Israel will not remain unaccountable for occupation. Our allies will impose consequences on us for violations of internat’l law [sic], or we will end up in the docket in the Hague…”
- On February 6, 2021, Seidemann tweeted, “The decision of the International Court is good news for Israel…it is vital to us and to the future of our children that we be held accountable for our actions as occupiers. The ‘friends’ who exempt us from responsibility are like a rich uncle subsidizing our addiction to the ‘crack’ of settlements and occupation instead of sending us off to rehab.”
- Donors include the European Union, Switzerland, National Endowment for Democracy (United States), and the UNDP “Joint Program /Sawasya.”
- Donors include: European Union, Ireland, Spain, France, Open Society Institute, Christian Aid (UK), DanChurchAid (Denmark), Grassroots International, Kvinna Till Kvinna (Sweden), Trocaire (Ireland), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Misereor (Germany), and the United Nations (OCHA, OHCHR, UNDP, UN Women