The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday declared the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. “The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” the ICC Judges said.
“Today, Pre-Trial Chamber I of ICC decided, by the majority, that the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, a State party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967,” ICC said in a statement.
The ICC announcement clears its chief prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities despite fierce Israeli objections.
The mandate of the ICC is to prosecute people, not countries, including those from states that are not signatories, as long as one party has signed the international treaty, which Palestine did in 2015, while Israel has not signed. Palestine used its UN observer state status, gained in 2012, to join the ICC.
Palestine’s status as an occupied territory rather than a sovereign country had prompted Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, to wait for confirmation from the judges of the court, headquartered in The Hague, if the ICC had the authority. Bensouda now intends to open a formal inquiry into alleged war crimes in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The case could include the alleged killings by Israeli soldiers of more than 200 Palestinians, including more than 40 children, at demonstrations along the Gaza frontier in 2018.
War crimes, and ethnic cleansing, may have occurred when Israeli authorities moved Israeli civilians into the West Bank to live in settlements, which were against international law. The majority of those Israeli settlers are American born US citizens. The Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of civilians into occupied land.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the decision carried the message that crimes committed would not be dropped and that perpetrators would not go unpunished.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs minister, said on Twitter that the ruling was “a victory for rights, justice, freedom and moral values in the world”.
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