No one expected that the Palestinian quest for justice at the International Criminal Court would be a quick and easy affair.
But little progress has been made in the nearly three years since Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor at the time, ended her years-long preliminary probe and recommended an investigation of suspected war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While the situation on the ground rapidly deteriorates, the Palestine investigation appears to be growing ever colder. Powerful states are either ambivalent or openly hostile towards the probe, while lavishing support for the ICC’s newly opened investigation in Ukraine.
The year 2022 has been the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since at least 2005 and there is no end in sight for Israel’s sociocidal siege on Gaza. The outlook for 2023 doesn’t look great, to say the least.
How bad do things have to get before Karim Khan, the ICC chief prosecutor since June 2021, treats the Palestine investigation with the urgency it so clearly requires?
Some 200 organizations based in Palestine and around the globe are pressing Khan to not only investigate Israeli crimes, but to deter them by warning Israel of their illegality.
Bensouda, Khan’s predecessor, issued a handful of such warnings, preventing at least one war crime during her tenure.
Israel’s foreign minister at the time later admitted that Bensouda’s intervention regarding the planned destruction of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community in the West Bank, caused the government to put the scheme on hold.
“This unequivocally shows that such preventive statements can provide sufficient deterrence,” the dozens of groups state in their letter to Khan.
They point to “important missed opportunities for preventative statements,” such as during Israel’s unprovoked military offensive on Gaza during three days in August, killing civilians in their homes.
“Similarly, no such statements were issued when the Israeli military raided and assaulted worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the third holiest religious site for Muslims,” they add.
“The incursions took place during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, in an escalation that gravely threatened regional peace and security.”
The groups also noted Israel’s “terror designations” against six prominent Palestinian civil society groups and recent raids on their offices.
Three of the targeted groups have provided evidence to the ICC and their “constructive engagement” – as the letter to Khan puts it – is in large part why Israel is repressing them.
And yet Khan has been silent.
“Although Israel’s targeting of these organizations could hinder the work of the ICC, there has been no public reaction by your office,” the letter states, calling on Khan to condemn and call for the rescinding of the designations.
The groups also call on the chief prosecutor to affirm that the ICC will investigate Israel’s August offensive on Gaza and “urgently expedite” the Palestine investigation, “including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
They also urge Khan to visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip and work with Egypt and Jordan to facilitate such a visit and open a country office in Palestine, which Israel has long prevented international human rights investigators from accessing.
Al-Haq, one of the groups designated and raided by Israel that provides evidence to the court, is meanwhile taking legal action against the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI), an Israel lobby outfit based in the Netherlands.
The human rights group accuses CIDI of defamation over its amplification of Israel’s unsubstantiated claims against it.
CIDI has published “dozens of articles” over the past years “inciting against Palestinian civil society organizations” and “delegitimizing their vital work of defending human rights,” Al-Haq states.
The lobby group has long campaigned to end Dutch assistance to Palestinian groups.
Towards this end, it has parroted Israeli government smear campaigns, exemplified by the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs’ “Terrorists in Suits” dossier, a 76-page document featuring racist caricatures, factual errors and unsubstantiated claims.
In May and June this year, CIDI published and promoted on social media “three slanderous articles attempting to tarnish Al-Haq’s professional reputation,” according to Al-Haq.
“Apart from containing numerous defamatory allegations, these articles by CIDI were riddled with serious factual errors,” Al-Haq stated this week.
These errors and falsehoods included the claim that major credit card companies have blocked payments to Al-Haq since 2018, classifying it as a “terrorist organization.”
The rights group states that the credit card companies didn’t “terminate their financial services to Al-Haq – if only because Al-Haq wasn’t receiving such services.”
CIDI claims that Al-Haq was founded by Shawan Jabarin, the current general director, and claims that he is a commander with the PFLP, a Marxist-Leninist political party with an armed wing proscribed by Israel, the US and EU.
Al-Haq was in fact founded in 1979 by Palestinian jurists Raja Shehadeh, Charles Shamas and Jonathan Kuttab.
As for the claim that Jabarin is a PFLP commander, Al-Haq states that it is “a shocking example of toxic defamation.”
The rights group adds that “CIDI’s main allegations center around erroneous and unsubstantiated claims that Al-Haq is involved in terrorism – a grave accusation, legally comparable to complicity in murder.”
The Netherlands is among 10 European states that have rejected Israel’s terror designations against Al-Haq and several other Palestinian civil society groups.
The legal complaint summons CIDI to remove the three articles by 5 December and requires it to “publish clear rectifications” of its “factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated assertions.”
Al-Haq’s lawyer has also filed a criminal complaint with the Dutch public prosecutor “due to the severity of CIDI’s false allegations and the harm already done to Al-Haq’s reputation, particularly in the Netherlands.”
“We have defied the Israeli government efforts to shut down Al-Haq and silence us, which we will continue to do,” the group stated on Monday.
“In the same spirit, we will not be silenced by groups that smear us to disrupt our principled human rights work.”
And it’s long past time for the ICC’s Karim Khan to break his silence and stand in solidarity with Palestinian groups who are being persecuted for representing victims of Israel’s serious crimes at the court.