Recent incidents in the West Bank underscore the urgent need for accountability at the International Criminal Court as Israel’s open-fire regulations violate Palestinians’ most basic right to life.
Early Tuesday, an officer with the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police agency, opened fire towards a vehicle near the West Bank city of Ramallah, striking the car’s windshield.
The officer reportedly thought he was shooting at a Palestinian motorist attempting an attack with his car.
It is a scenario that has unfolded dozens of times before, frequently resulting in the death of the Palestinian driver.
But on Tuesday, the person behind the wheel was not a Palestinian. He was an Israeli who lives in a nearby settlement.
When he came under fire, the driver reportedly got out of his car and, according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, “shouted at the security forces [sic] that he is Jewish.”
There had been no attempted attack on occupation forces. The Israeli driver had hit a Palestinian car at a checkpoint “and continued to drive, at high speed,” Haaretz stated.
The council of the settlement in which the Israeli driver resides stated that “miraculously, the driver was not hit.”
Indeed, the Israeli man is lucky to have survived. Palestinian motorists who find themselves in the same scenario frequently do not.
Just this year, five Palestinians were shot and killed in what Israel claims were car-ramming attacks at its military checkpoints in the West Bank – sites of dehumanizing and deadly violence against Palestinians.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found there was no justification for the use of lethal fire in the case of a Palestinian being killed during an alleged car-ramming attack last month.
Nour Shqeir “clearly posed no danger” when he was killed, B’Tselem stated. The man’s slaying is “yet another example of Israeli forces’ trigger-happy approach to Palestinians,” the group added.
The Israeli settler’s brush with the lethal violence reflexively used against Palestinians is unlikely to cause any occupation forces to think twice before pulling the trigger.
“Neutralize the terrorist”
Not after an Israeli soldier was punished for failing to “neutralize” a Palestinian who threw a Molotov cocktail in his direction at a military post outside the West Bank settlement of Kedumim on Saturday.
“Neutralize” is the word the Israeli military and police frequently use in the context of killing or seriously injuring Palestinians in the course of alleged attacks.
It was the word used by the military when soldiers killed Fadi Samara Qaad during an alleged car-ramming attack in the central West Bank in May.
Qaad’s family denied that he was attempting an attack when he was killed. No Israeli soldiers were injured in the incident, as is so often the case when an alleged Palestinian assailant is shot dead.
After failing to shoot the Palestinian outside Kedumim on Saturday, the Israeli soldier was booted from his unit. Military protocol required him to open fire.
“It was expected of a soldier to complete the arrest protocol and to return fire in order to neutralize the terrorist – as required by the open-fire regulations,” the Israeli military stated.
Palestinians living on both sides of the Green Line boundary between Israel and the territories it occupies are subjected to a “widespread and systematic shoot-to-kill policy,” human rights groups say.
Because of this policy, Ahmad Erakat was executed at a West Bank checkpoint hours before his sister’s wedding in June.
Israel claimed that the young man had attempted to attack soldiers with his car. Video of the incident shows that Erakat was shot when he was unarmed and raising his hands in the air.
ICC investigation stalls
More than 750 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since October 2015.
In January that year, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, began her preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine. The preliminary examination concluded in December 2019.
Bensouda determined that requirements to launch a full investigation had been met.
The report on her preliminary probe identified Israel’s systemic use of live fire against unarmed Palestinians – particularly during Gaza’s Great March of Return protests – as a potential war crimes case that would arise from an investigation.
She also focused on Israel’s transfer of its civilian population into West Bank settlements – what a UN expert described as “an open and shut case.”
But before the launch of an investigation, Bensouda requested that a panel of judges confirm the court’s jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The prosecutor requested an expeditious ruling on jurisdiction. But at this point, “there is no clarity or certainty as to when, or even whether,” any such ruling will be made, the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq stated this month.
Interminable ICC procedures fail to meet the urgency of the human rights situation for Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.
“It is problematic that Palestine remains excluded from the protection promised by the ICC even as war crimes and crimes against humanity, not least those related to the expansion and establishment of unlawful settlements, continue,” Al-Haq said.
The likelihood of an investigation in Palestine is thrown into further doubt as the under-resourced ICC struggles to find Bensouda’s successor, her tenure coming to an end.
One of the sticking points is the Trump administration’s economic sanctions on Bensouda – putting her in the company of “terrorists and narcotics traffickers” blacklisted by the US Department of Treasury.
The prosecutor is being punished over her recommendation to investigate suspected war crimes perpetrated by US forces in Afghanistan and those committed by its ally Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
And so the window of opportunity for Palestinians to access a process of accountability at the international level may be closing.
With no pressure on Israel to stop its abuses, Palestinians will continue to be killed at the checkpoints and military posts established to facilitate the colonization of the West Bank.
Israel’s war crimes are being committed in full view of powers in a position to stop them but who choose not to.