Prosecuting Israel’s crimes: a moving snowball that can’t be stopped

Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq.

Adri Nieuwhof

How important is the decision by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

The prominent human rights advocate Shawan Jabarin suggests that the decision is like a moving snowball that “can’t be stopped.” Although Israel has been granted impunity by Western governments for decades, there is now a real possibility of bringing Israeli war criminals to justice.

Jabarin leads the Palestinian organization Al-Haq in Ramallah. He has suffered directly from Israel’s human rights abuses. Previously held in administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial — Jabarin was subjected to a travel ban imposed by Israel based on “secret evidence” from 2006 until March 2012.

Adri Nieuwhof: Do you consider the signing of the Rome Statute as important?

Shawan Jabarin: I would like to address one main point first. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] signed the Rome Statute as the president of the State of Palestine. He has used the ICC as a bargaining chip for political reasons and for the sake of negotiations. But I think the Americans and Israelis cornered him and gave him nothing.

We used to push him to distinguish and differentiate between the line of negotiations and politics, and the line of the Palestinians’ absolute right to join the [UN] treaties, bodies and organizations. But they [the Palestinian Authority] continued mixing both lines and looked at it as a political issue. I can’t say that he cut off with that strategy. But I can say that he signed because he got nothing from the Israelis and the Americans and he saw the price the Palestinians pay is very high.

It is not just salaries and it is not just money. It is their blood and their lives. At the end, the people were disappointed. It was clear that the people lost their hope. They even lost their faith and belief in their leaders. I think Abu Mazen reached that conclusion and dealt with the ICC in this way.

What can we as Palestinians get from signing the Rome Statute? I think we can go after the Israeli criminals first, because if there is no price that the criminals pay, they will commit their crimes again and again and again.

Second come mainly the crime of the settlements and the crime that has happened in Gaza.

I don’t think it is easy and that tomorrow things will be solved. It takes time, it needs professional work, it needs patience.

The Israelis are nervous and the Israeli reaction is aggressive, but in the end I am sure they will deal with the reality. And they will stand before the big question if they want the PA [Palestinian Authority] to continue or not. This is also the question for the Americans and the Europeans. In the end I think the PA is a needed body for the international community. And for the Israelis, because the Israelis put all the responsibilities on their [the PA’s] shoulders. They give the PA the dirty work. The sanctions or punishment by the Israelis or Americans [against the PA] do not help.

I felt this is the first time that the Palestinians have a will. They expressed that in a clear way. They said they will not dissolve the PA by our hands, but if the Israelis want to take action, let them take the responsibilities too. They said we have other things to do like to stop all relations with the Israelis and let them do what they want. Let them kill, let them deport, let them destroy. We will stop the security coordination, we will stop relations at all levels.

How will we deal with the ICC as NGOs [non-governmental organizations]? After the accession application, after the declaration was submitted at the registrar’s office of the ICC, Palestine gave the ICC jurisdiction retroactively since 13 June 2014, which covers the attack on Gaza.

The snowball is moving now and it can’t be stopped. The official side has no full control and we have enough space as civil society organizations. Even when they want to deal with the ICC differently in the future, we have space to push the prosecutor’s office to carry out its investigation and to start even without referral from the state party Palestine.

We are coordinating with them [the PA], we have meetings, but we will not undermine their work and they can’t undermine our work. We will work in parallel. This is the decision of all the human rights organizations in Palestine.

AN: How can human rights activists help ensure that war criminals are held to account?

SJ: The Palestinians have rich resources from the solidarity movement all over the world, from different professions, different groups.

First, lawyers, professionals and practitioners can help with their consultation and ideas. Those who are ready to move can coordinate with us to discuss how we can proceed. They can put pressure on their governments, on officials not to restrict Palestinians and make it difficult for Palestinians to proceed. Now it is time to show the double standards, it is time to correct the previous narrative and the previous policy from the official sides.

The third issue is to follow all the Israeli officials’ travels and visits. They can inform us because we have to continue to work on universal jurisdiction.

Second, the corporations are also responsible [for their role in Israel’s violations of international law.] We have to discuss how we can move forward and build cases.

AN: In response to Abbas’s signing of the Rome Statute, Shurat HaDin, a so-called Israeli law center, is preparing war crimes complaints against Palestinians. How do you feel about that?

SJ: I have no problem if it is a legal case and not a political case. This is a way to put pressure on Palestinians from the Israeli side to make them step back. But we have no fear. Let them be active to submit one case or one thousand cases. We have no problem with that. We will submit our cases in time, in a very professional manner.

The people support us and are eager and waiting for justice. We look at the ICC as a way to push real peace in this area. Because [if] criminals do not pay the price, they will commit their crimes again and again.

By punishing Israeli criminals, by sanctioning Israel, by divestments, this is the way to build, or to start build the nucleus of what is called the peace camp inside Israel.

It is not — as the Americans and some European countries say — that by going to the ICC you strengthen [Benjamin] Netanyahu. No, Netanyahu will remain strong if he faces no punishment and there are no actions against his activities like pillaging in the occupied territory, using all its [Palestine’s] natural resources for their benefits and interests, transferring water to Tel Aviv and elsewhere. That is what is strengthening Netanyahu.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh