International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced on Wednesday that she is opening a full war crimes probe against Israel and the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.
“The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years,” Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
“In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides,” she added. “My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized.”
The Palestinian Authority said that it welcomed the decision to open a war crimes investigation.
“This is 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,” the PA foreign ministry said in a statement.
Israeli Foreign Minister says ICC war crimes probe in Palestinian territories is ‘an act of moral and legal bankruptcy.’
Bensouda’s announcement comes less than a month after a February decision by the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber recognizing a State of Palestine and authorizing her to move forward.
The probe is expected to cover the 2014 Gaza War, the 2018 Gaza border crisis and the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank as well as Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.
War crimes suits could be leveled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defense ministers and any other high-level officials involved in such activity since June 13, 2014. Soldiers and commanders could also be targeted.
“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,” chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Bensouda said that the investigation “will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.” She said that the decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by her office that lasted close to five years.
“Having assessed submissions from states, international organisations and other stakeholders, the Chamber was otherwise unanimous in its view that Palestine is a State Party to the Rome Statute. The majority also ruled that Palestine’s referral of the Situation obliged the Office to open an investigation, the Office having determined that there existed a reasonable basis to do so in accordance with the Rome Statute criteria,” she wrote in a statement.
Bensouda called on Palestinian and Israeli victims and affected communities to be patient.
“The ICC is not a panacea, but only seeks to discharge the responsibility that the international community has entrusted to it, which is to promote accountability for Rome Statute crimes, regardless of the perpetrator, in an effort to deter such crimes,” she wrote. “In meeting this responsibility, the Office focuses its attention on the most notorious alleged offenders or those alleged to be the most responsible for the commission of the crimes.”
Her primary concern, she wrote, “must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”
Bensouda’s decision comes only a few weeks after her successor, Karim Khan, was announced to take her place starting in June.
The news will be another blow to Israel, where officials had hoped Bensouda would leave the decision of how to proceed to her successor and that he might be more sympathetic to Israel’s many claims against the ICC’s jurisdiction.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz alarmed government officials when he warned that hundreds of Israelis could be subject – in the near future – to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court.
Gantz called that “an estimate,” declining to say that Israel had drawn up a list of officials likely to be investigated. Israel will provide legal assistance to any targeted Israelis and will give them advice regarding travel abroad if necessary, Gantz said.