ICC Seeks Arrest of Israeli Leader, Netanyahu, Defence Minister for War Crimes

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

•Prime Minister: Accusations a “disgrace”, attack on our military and all Israel

•Biden: It’s outrageous, US lawmakers kick 

•Several Hamas leaders also risk arrest

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

In a move rarely seen, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, yesterday applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the country’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant.

Khan said he was also seeking the arrest and prosecution of Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the group’s political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and the Hamas military chief, Mohammed Deif.

The ICC prosecutor said his office had applied to the world court’s pre-trial chamber for arrest warrants for the military and political leaders on both sides for crimes committed during Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza.

While the Hamas leaders were wanted for crimes of murder, hostage taking, rape, sexual assault and torture, Netanyahu and Gallant were accused of extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, and deliberately targeting civilians.

“These acts demand accountability,” Khan’s office said in a statement.

Khan added, “On the basis of evidence collected and examined by my office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Yoav Gallant, the Minister of Defence of Israel, bear criminal responsibility for the following war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 8 October 2023:

“Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Statute. Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii), or cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i).

“Wilful killing contrary to article 8(2)(a)(i), or murder as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i). Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime contrary to articles 8(2)(b)(i), or 8(2)(e)(i);

“Extermination and/or murder contrary to articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including in the context of deaths caused by starvation, as a crime against humanity. Persecution as a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h). Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k).

“My office submits that the war crimes alleged in these applications were committed in the context of an international armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hamas (together with other Palestinian Armed Groups) running in parallel.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.

“My office submits that the evidence we have collected, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements from the alleged perpetrator group, shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.

“This occurred through the imposition of a total siege over Gaza that involved completely closing the three border crossing points, Rafah, Kerem Shalom and Erez, from 8 October 2023 for extended periods and then by arbitrarily restricting the transfer of essential supplies – including food and medicine – through the border crossings after they were reopened.

“The siege also included cutting off cross-border water pipelines from Israel to Gaza – Gazans’ principal source of clean water – for a prolonged period beginning 9 October 2023, and cutting off and hindering electricity supplies from at least 8 October 2023 until today.

“This took place alongside other attacks on civilians, including those queuing for food; obstruction of aid delivery by humanitarian agencies; and attacks on and killing of aid workers, which forced many agencies to cease or limit their operations in Gaza.

“My office submits that these acts were committed as part of a common plan to use starvation as a method of war and other acts of violence against the Gazan civilian population as a means to (i) eliminate Hamas; (ii) secure the return of the hostages which Hamas has abducted, and (iii) collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza, whom they perceived as a threat to Israel.

“The effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known, and have been confirmed by multiple witnesses interviewed by my Office, including local and international medical doctors. They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women.

“Today, my office seeks to charge two of those most responsible, Netanyahu and Gallant, both as co-perpetrators and as superiors pursuant to Articles 25 and 28 of the Rome Statute.”

Khan said Israel, like all states, had a right to take action to defend its population. However, he explained that the right did not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.

The ICC prosecutor stated, “Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal.

“As I also repeatedly underlined in my public statements, those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action. That day has come.”

The ICC had previously issued warrants for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Israel is not a member of the court and does not recognise its authority.

But President Joe Biden and US lawmakers quickly rose in defence of the Israeli leader, slamming ICC and calling the warrants “outrageous.”

Biden criticised the ICC prosecutor for simultaneously issuing arrest warrants for the Israeli leaders and Hamas leader, Sinwar, maintaining that there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security,” Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, offered a lengthier statement, stating that the announcement of the arrest warrants “does nothing to help, and could jeopardise ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the US continues to pursue relentlessly”.

Blinken stressed that the ICC lacked jurisdiction over the Israel-Hamas war and called out the swift process that did not allow Israel a chance to respond, calling into question the legitimacy and credibility of the investigation that led to the decision.

Earlier, top US lawmakers signalled their opposition to the prospect of ICC warrants and suggested that Congress could pursue sanctions against the ICC and its officials.

Some of the most vocal were: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who called the ICC “an illegitimate court that equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide”.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) said in a statement, “Any attempt to equate the brutal terrorist group Hamas, which invaded Israel and slaughtered innocent civilians, with the Israeli government, which has the duty to defend its people, calls into question the ICC’s credibility.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said, “My colleagues and I look forward to making sure neither Khan, his associates, nor their families will ever set foot again in the United States.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would: “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC”.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also condemned the decision and stated that the ICC had no jurisdiction over Israel.

“This effort is a moral outrage based on blatant falsehoods that will harm the court’s credibility, completely undermine its core mandate, and embolden enemies of democracies around the world,” AJC said in a statement.

The ICC, based in The Hague, had been investigating Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories for the past three years – and more recently the actions of Hamas as well.

However, THISDAY learnt that Khan’s submission was the first step as the ICC judges will now decide whether they believed the evidence was sufficient to issue arrest warrants – something that could take weeks or months.

Khan said his office had evidence that Israel had “intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival”.

Israel, he said, had a right to defend itself but not by “intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population” which he said were criminal acts.

But Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz – a political rival of Netanyahu – also denounced the prosecutor’s decision.

Gantz said, “Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a bloodthirsty terror organisation is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy.”

Senior figures in the Israeli government likewise reacted angrily to the announcement, which Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said was “scandalous” and tantamount to attacking the victims of October 7.

Finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said the decision would be “the last nail in the dismantling of this political and anti-Semitic court,” adding that “arrest warrants (for Netanyahu and Gallant) are the arrest warrants for all of us”.

A panel of three judges will now decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution, but the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Netanyahu called the prosecutor’s accusations against him a “disgrace” and attack on the Israeli military and all of Israel. He vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas.

 Netanyahu said, “As Prime Minister of Israel, I reject with disgust The Hague prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas.

“With what audacity do you compare Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, decapitated, raped and kidnapped our brothers and sisters and the IDF soldiers fighting a just war.

“No pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us.”

Hamas also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s request to arrest its leaders, saying it “equates the victim with the executioner”.

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, when militants from Gaza crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage.

Since then, Israel has waged a brutal campaign to dismantle Hamas in Gaza. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, at least half of them women and children, according to the latest estimates by Gaza health officials.

The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly accused Israel of hindering aid deliveries throughout the war. Israel denies this, saying there are no restrictions on aid entering Gaza and accusing the UN of failing to distribute aid.

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, accusing Israel of genocide. Israel denies those charges.

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

The UN General Assembly endorsed the ICC, but the court is independent. Dozens of countries don’t accept the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and other crimes. They include Israel, the United States, Russia and China.

Typically, the ICC gets involved when nations are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes on their territory. Israel argues it has a functioning court system.

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