On May 8, 2014, 17 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) published an open letter to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, calling for Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, contrary to the claims in the letter, this is part of a wider campaign to exploit international legal frameworks as a weapon against Israel (lawfare), not to further the cause of international human rights and justice.
- At the UN’s World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa (August-September 2001), international and Palestinian NGOs crystallized a strategy to delegitimize and isolate Israel. Among other isolation tactics (such as boycotts and sanctions), NGOs called “for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal” to punish Israel for self-defense measures.
- This strategy of “lawfare” has expanded to include harassment of Israeli officials through the use of universal jurisdiction lawsuits, as well as lobbying for and involvement in one-sided UN Human Rights Council initiatives such as the discredited Goldstone Report.
- Since 2009, as part of the legal warfare campaign, NGOs have been intensively lobbying for an ICC investigation into alleged Israeli “war crimes.” This is only possible through a UN Security Council referral to the court or by a Palestinian state (or Israel) accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction. In 2012, the ICC rejected an attempt, which was heavily promoted by the NGOs, by the Palestinian Authority to join the court. These groups have renewed their campaign following the designation by the UN General Assembly of the Palestinian Authority as a “Non-member Observer State,” claiming that such a designation now confers “statehood” status.
- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), leaders of these lawfare efforts, are among the signatories on the NGO letter. Since 2002, the year of the court’s establishment, Amnesty has accused Israel of crimes that would fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction. Likewise, in February 2009, Amnesty transferred files to the ICC Prosecutor regarding alleged “war crimes” committed by Israel in Gaza.
- In a press release about the letter, Amnesty International refers to Israel’s “entrenched impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.” This allegation is part of an ongoing attempt to malign the Israeli legal system’s investigatory and judicial branches. Because of the core principle of complementarity, an ICC case can only proceed if the court found that Israel’s investigatory mechanisms were disingenuous. Therefore, Amnesty, HRW, and other NGOs repeatedly impugn Israel’s justice system with false charges of corruption and a lack of due process.
- In addition to posting the letter, HRW issued a corresponding press release, with important differences. In the press release, HRW notes, generically, that the ICC could investigate “serious crimes…committed by Palestinian authorities or armed groups or the Israeli military.” However, HRW specifically refers to Israeli settlements and home demolitions, providing details solely on these two issues. This one-sided approach reflects HRW’s central goal of using ICC investigation and prosecution primarily against Israel as a weapon, rather than preventing or punishing abuses by all actors in the conflict.
- Other signatories on the letter are highly politicized Palestinian NGOs, funded by European governments and the European Union, include Al-Haq, Addameer, Al Dameer, Al Mezan, BADIL, Defense for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies, and Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling. In addition to lawfare against Israel, these NGOs exploit their government funding for BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), demonization, and other forms of political warfare against Israel.
- Some of these NGOs and their leaders have alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group. If a case related to war crimes in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict arises, members of the PFLP could face ICC indictment.