Israel’s assault on Gaza constitutes “state terrorism” and the state should be referred to the International Criminal Court, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Hanan Ashrawi charged in an interview Friday.
“When you target civilians, this is terrorism, but it is state terrorism, because it is taken as a result of political decisions giving orders to the army and the army executing these orders by killing civilians. Otherwise, how do you explain that the vast majority of victims are women and children?” Dr. Ashrawi told me over the phone. She is a member of the PLO’s executive committee–the body that represents Palestine internationally–and is a prominent spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause.
Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has claimed the lives of over 800 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. Human rights organizations have echoed Ashrawi’s charge that Israel has committed war crimes.
Ashrawi has recently attracted attention in the U.S. because of an emotional interview aired on ABC News, in which she said Israel was carrying out a “deliberate massacre” in the Gaza Strip. Ashrawi has also made headlines for her threats to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in Gaza. She told me that Palestinian officials “have taken the decision” to go to the ICC. And hours after the early Friday interview, the Associated Press reported that through a Paris-based lawyer, “top Palestinian officials have filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court, accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza.” Israel and the U.S. strenuously oppose such a move.
It’s doubtful the ICC will take on the case, and they first have to decide whether they have jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories. The “state of Palestine,” as the United Nations now calls it since the 2012 vote granting non-member observer state status to Palestine, has not acceded to the ICC because of the Israeli threats. But Ashrawi said that another avenue to the ICC was the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza. The council voted to establish an inquiry over the objections of the U.S. this week.
I interviewed Ashrawi on another day of intensive diplomacy aimed at securing at least a temporary cease-fire to halt the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian factions battling the state. Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region to try to get Israel and the Palestinian factions to agree to a temporary, one-week ceasefire. But Israel rejected it, though they did accept a 12-hour humanitarian truce.
The cease-fire negotiations are trying to bridge the large gap between the positions of the Palestinians and of Israel. Egypt, the U.S. and Israel all support a halt to the fighting before talking about Hamas and the PLO’s main demands, which focus on ending the crippling blockade of Gaza and releasing prisoners arrested in the West Bank who had been released in 2011 for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas has expressed openness to a humanitarian truce.
“It’s a unified position. We want to end the siege, we want to lift the siege and the blockade, we want to ensure that the people of Gaza have…a minimal level of a decent life,” said Ashrawi. “We cannot go back to the status quo ante. This is a unanimous position adopted by all Palestinians–that the conditions giving rise to this Israeli impunity and use of violence and recurrent pattern of closing down Gaza and then shelling and bombing it, that this has to stop.”
The unity of the Palestinians was reflected in the massive demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday night, said Ashrawi–protests that were the largest in decades. Those demonstrations, the largest of which were at the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem, “are significant in that they are sending a message to Israel and the world: that Gaza is not isolated, Gaza is not just one place. It is part of Palestine,” Ashrawi added.
While the PLO official expressed hope about the mass protests, she also was dour about the role the U.S. has played.
“Look, the problem of the American role is that they repeatedly support Israel blindly–that they have stood with the occupation, against the rights of the Palestinian people,” Ashrawi told me. “It’s very difficult to envision the Americans having a change of heart unless the American people really put pressure on their representatives. And it’s the American Congress unfortunately that is more Zionist than the Israeli government.”