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Toothless body: Why has International Criminal Court failed Palestinians?

By Ivan Kesic

International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan's recent visit to the occupied West Bank and Ramallah once again laid bare the Haque-based international tribunal’s strong pro-Israel bias.

It was his first-ever visit to the occupied Palestinian territories and came amid the Israeli regime's genocidal war on the Gaza Strip, with the backing of the United States.

Even though the Tel Aviv regime does not recognize ICC’s jurisdiction and refuses to cooperate with it, Khan told the Israeli authorities that his office would be happy to cooperate with the regime.

Amid the Israeli regime's war against Palestinians in Gaza, which started on October 7, many world leaders, activists, and commentators have raised questions over the submissiveness of the ICC.

The first reaction of Khan, a British lawyer who has been serving as the ICC prosecutor since June 2021, came three days after the Israeli regime launched bombings on Gaza in October.

In a statement issued on October 10, Khan confirmed that the ICC’s mandate applies to the latest confrontation between the Israeli regime and Palestinians, adding they are continuously gathering information in support of an investigation about what happened on October 7.

Palestine joined the international court in 2015, while the regime in Tel Aviv is still not a member of the ICC and has repeatedly rejected its jurisdiction and does not formally engage with it.

ICC’s Rome Statute gives it legal authority to investigate crimes committed on the territory of its 123 member states or by their nationals on other territories when domestic authorities are "unwilling or unable" to do so.

Continued indifference of ICC 

Toward the end of October, Khan visited the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, when he criticized Israel for denying food and medicine to Palestinians at a Cairo conference.

He warned that curtailment of these rights could give rise to criminal responsibility under the Rome Statute, adding that the ICC has active investigations about war crimes committed there since 2014.

His statements, however, were characterized as vague as he wittingly tried to equate Israeli and Palestinian “crimes”, even though one side is an aggressor and the other side is a victim.

There has also been no sense of urgency in the ICC investigation, for which the court has been regularly criticized and cajoled by Palestinian politicians and human rights activists.

Amid pressure, in mid-November, Khan announced that five countries had sent him a referral of the situation of Palestine, specifically South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that his country, together with many other countries across the world, referred the Israeli regime's action to the ICC.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also appealed to the ICC president and prosecutor through letters, emphasizing the need for the international court to initiate judicial proceedings.

He urged the ICC not to allow the perpetrators of serious international crimes to escape punishment, highlighting the importance of adhering to the court's main duty outlined in the Rome Statute by avoiding double standards, selectivity, and politicization.

However, there has been no headway in the ICC probe so far even though the war continues.

Khan's visit to Tel Aviv

Despite growing international calls for accountability and professionalism, blatant duplicity and hypocrisy reached a new high after Khan's recent visit to the occupied West Bank and Tel Aviv.

His trip was initiated by a group that represents families of victims of the Al-Aqsa Storm Operation (Al-Aqsa Flood), despite evidence revealing that the Israeli regime killed their own on Oct 7.

The Israeli regime made a major propaganda effort to portray Oct 7 spectacular military operation and its humiliating defeat as a "massacre," using the group as the regime's front-line trumpeters.

For weeks now, they have been bombarding the media with propaganda, also meeting with world leaders, seeking an emotional reaction which the Israeli regime then uses to smear Palestinians.

It ranges from the widely promoted propaganda about 40 “murdered babies” to individual stories like that of Emily Hand, whose father gleefully trumpeted to the media that he was happy that she was dead, only to be declared alive later, and eventually freed.

Hamas' humane treatment of recently freed Israeli captives prompted the regime to ban their families from speaking to the media, suggesting that they tried to manipulate public opinion.

Khan has been accused of taking the forged Zionist narratives as indisputable facts, commenting in an official statement that the Hamas operation was an "attack on civilians" and that it represents "one of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity."

He called Hamas a "terrorist" organization, which is not an international position and demanded the release of Israeli captives while ignoring that over 6,000 Palestinian civilians are in Israeli captivity, without any charges.

Palestinians criticize  Khan

Khan also met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, including President Mahmoud Abbas.

But he was snubbed by Palestinian political parties and human rights groups who rightly accused him of parroting Israeli accusations of rights abuses over longstanding Palestinian charges.

In a statement, Hamas condemned his visit and his claims regarding alleged atrocities committed on October 7, accusing Khan of bias toward Israel's "false and misleading narrative" while not conducting "a professional and fair investigation."

"As Palestinian human rights organizations, we decided not to meet him," said Ammar Al-Dwaik, director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

"I think the way this visit has been handled shows that Khan is not handling his work in an independent and professional manner," he said, emphasizing his unequal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian cases.

The BDS movement also voiced criticism, noting that the ICC has failed the Palestinian people for years and now it's failing to stop the Israeli regime’s genocide against 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, undermining the court's legitimacy.

On the X platform, formerly Twitter, the movement described Khan's trip to occupied territories as biased and Israeli-sponsored, adding that the visit compounds the court's failure.

The Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, led by Ramy Abdu, has also criticized the ICC prosecutor for failure to act on the situation in occupied Palestine, including the Gaza Strip.

"In light of the extraordinarily high level of documentation, unparalleled in history, of the Israeli wars on Gaza, which fit the definition of a genocide in the making under international law, Khan's selective vision is a shameful affront to justice," its statement noted.

They accused Khan of "clear double standards" for not taking "a practical action," on developments in occupied Palestinian territories, highlighting the fact he did not meet with victims of Israel's occupation and settler terrorism or their families.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Al-Haq, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, also expressed deep concern over what they said was a "prolonged delay" in Khan's direct engagement with victims, especially in Gaza.

Triestino Mariniello, a legal representative of Palestinian victims before the ICC, said Khan has “always failed to meet with victim representatives or victims themselves."

Mariniello noted that since Khan took office, his mandate has been characterized by "double standards" in relation to the situation in Palestine.

"The Prosecutor has not put in place any effective investigation and allocated very minimal and largely insufficient funding to the investigation since it opened," he said.

Journalist Benjamin Norton commented that although the US and the Israeli regime are not even members, they lobbied for Khan to become the ICC prosecutor, and as a result, he immediately dropped investigations into US and Israeli war crimes in Afghanistan and Palestine.


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