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ICC decision to investigate war crimes touches Israelis’ deepest fear (accountability)

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The recently announced decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israeli war crimes (pending a pre-Trial chamber decision on the “territories” at hand), has hit a raw nerve in Israel.

It is not merely that Prime Minister Netanyahu went on Hasbara overdrive with his antics, saying that ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is ignoring “the truth when she says that the very act of Jews living in their ancestral homeland, the land of the Bible, that this is a war crime”. No, it went much further than that – opposition rival Benny Gantz also went ‘meshugge’ on this, calling it “a political decision, not a legal one,” adding that “the Israeli army is one of the most moral militaries in the world”, and that “the Israeli army and State of Israel do not commit war crimes.” Simple as that! He added that “in the struggle over Israel’s international legitimacy to defend itself, there is no coalition and opposition. We will all join the fight for justice and for our basic right to defend the State of Israel and its civilians.”

And that last part about “no opposition”, is the centrality of this whole issue. Israel’s war crimes, which it indeed commits, and Gantz is one of the biggest criminals, is not something that is limited to the political right, it is a mainstream issue, and the expectation of immunity from legal consequences goes across the political board.

Israelis basically expect the state to defend them from accountability for such crimes. Oh, yes, there should be accountability for political corruption, like with Netanyahu’s recent indictment – but not for the grand-scale political corruption of state-sanctioned settler-colonialism which involves war crimes every single day.

The legal opinion submitted to the ICC by Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit did not even address the question of Israel’s own legal standing in acting as it does in Occupied Palestinian Territory. It merely addressed the jurisdiction of the ICC, saying that it has no standing, rejecting “resolutely” the court’s decision to investigate, calling it “unacceptable”, “rash” and “unfounded”.

Below the surface of this self-righteous hysteria, lies a raw nerve of Israeli insecurity. Mandelblit’s focus on jurisdiction, rather than possible guilt, is representative of a greater collective psyche problem: Israelis in general do not want to be investigated by external bodies. It suggests to them that their national system is flawed; furthermore, it suggests that they might not be in control of the system, which in Israel is always rigged towards Jewish exclusivity. Few will admit to it – they will merely point to ‘sovereignty’ in their indignant arguments – but they are actually seeking to maintain a racial privilege.

Indeed, fears of potential arrest of Israeli officials, have been expressed quite directly – as the Times of Israel reports:

Israel fears the International Criminal Court’s decision to move forward with a potential investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories by Israel will open up current and former government officials and military personnel to prosecution on the global stage…

With Israel planning to refuse to cooperate with a potential investigation by the ICC, officials fear top officers of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as low-ranking soldiers, could face international arrest warrants.

An Israeli ministerial committee had reportedly cancelled a meeting to discuss annexation plans of the Jordan Valley (over a fourth of the occupied West Bank), due to the ICC decision and fears of repercussions. Netanyahu’s promise ahead of the September elections to annex that area if elected was cited by ICC Chief Prosecutor Bensouda in her decision to move forward. And note the power of international opinion. An Israeli government source told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot that “Because of the prosecutor’s decision in the Hague, the issue of the Jordan Valley annexation will be put on a long hold”.

These fears are mainstream. We must also remember, that in the wake of Netanyahu’s promise to annex, Benny Gantz’s Blue White party claimed ownership of the idea. This suggests an overwhelming complicity of the Zionist Israeli public in Israel’s war crimes, and hence inherent opposition to international intervention.

Opposition to such intervention is even the general policy of the New Israel Fund – a US based progressive organization which funds various Israeli groups. These groups include human rights advocates B’Tselem and Gisha. In its funding guidelines, NIF writes:

NIF respects the principle of universal jurisdiction as an expression of the universality of human rights and as a means of safeguarding rights in undemocratic regimes. But as the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability and ensure that those who break or circumvent Israeli laws are brought to justice in Israel. With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts or apply the generally-accepted principle of universal jurisdiction against Israel or Israeli officials.

Read: We respect universal jurisdiction, but we firmly oppose its application against Israel.

In this cited paragraph, the pious justifications leading up to the exceptionalism clause are typical of the Israeli psyche on this issue. Benny Gantz’s claims of the “most moral army” that “does not commit war crimes” is in this same vein, perhaps a bit less sophisticated.

These are the desperate attempts to keep the dirty laundry at home. But what if the laundry never gets washed?

Gideon Levy summarized the issue in yet another of his must-read pieces in Haaretz:

This is the day we’ve been waiting for. All seekers of justice have been waiting for it. Anyone who believes that crimes have been committed hopes for the day when the perpetrators will be brought to justice, whether they be murderers, rapists, robbers or army commanders, ministers or settlers responsible for war crimes. The likelihood of Israel investigating itself is not slim; it’s nonexistent. And so we look to The Hague, to the place where war criminals are judged when their countries would not dream of prosecuting them.

Countries don’t like to be questioned about their authority. The mere decision to investigate them suggests that they have failed. This is also why Israel fights the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign so ferociously. Beyond the economic price it makes it pay, BDS also promotes the idea that Israel cannot fix itself. This is also why the New Israel Fund opposes BDS:

We oppose any attempt to criminalize the legitimate expression of support for any non-violent strategy or tactic, including the global BDS movement which we do not ourselves support. The NIF does oppose the global (or general) BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as counterproductive, and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland. NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs. However, NIF opposes the occupation and settlement activities. NIF will thus not exclude support for organizations that lawfully discourage the purchase of goods or use of services from settlements.

Read: We oppose the attempt to take Israel to task for its violations as a whole, but we support some selective actions that do not challenge the state too centrally.

The ICC case is a matter of taking Israel to task, as a state, from without. Israel has become used to impunity, and its privileged population has forgotten what it means to pay a price for the gravest of crimes. And these crimes are part and parcel of mainstream Zionism, the core of which is settler-colonialism. Most Israelis don’t understand this, they don’t even see it, and therefore, they cannot understand why they should pay a price for it. That’s why they need to go abroad and study this lesson in The Hague.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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13 Responses

  1. Misterioso on December 26, 2019, 10:51 am

    “And these crimes are part and parcel of mainstream Zionism, the core of which is settler-colonialism.”

    Indeed!! And here’s a disgusting example of Zionism’s ‘settler colonialism.’

    “It’s Christmas, but not as we know it: Israel ratchets-up religious war against Christians.” Redress Information and Analysis, 25 Dec. 2019, by Stuart Littlewood.

    “O little town of Bethlehem
    How still we see thee lie
    Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
    The silent stars go by
    Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    The everlasting Light
    The hopes and fears of all the years
    Are met in thee tonight.”

    “Happy Christmas, O prisoners of the Little Town of Bethlehem.

    “While carving the turkey for your family and merrily quaffing mulled wine ‘midst happy laughter, remember that the romantic Little Town of Bethlehem at the centre of our childhood Christmases is now ‘an immense prison’ in the words of Michel Sabbah, former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and entirely surrounded by Israel’s ugly eight-metre separation wall bristling with machine-gun towers.

    “The good citizens of Bethlehem are cut off from their capital Jerusalem, only six miles away, and the rest of the West Bank – and the whole world.

    “Consider that the United Nations, for obvious reasons, designated Jerusalem and Bethlehem a protected international zone under UN administration. Israeli rule was not to be permitted.

    “Consider also that when Palestine was under British mandate Christians accounted for 78 per cent of the population in Bethlehem and how 71 years of Israeli terror, illegal occupation, dispossession, interference and economic wrecking tactics have whittled their numbers down to around 15 per cent. In occupied Palestine overall the figure is down to 2 per cent.

    “Consider that, at this rate, there will soon be no Christians left in the land where Christianity was born, thanks to the cowardice and inaction of our political leaders.

    “And how do the 26 bishops loafing around in our House of Lords explain that to their dwindling congregations?

    “As usual, many Palestinians in Bethlehem and the other cities and villages throughout occupied Palestine will be unable to reunite with their families or celebrate Christmas at their holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem due to cruel Israeli-imposed travel restrictions. Imagine for a moment what sort of Christmas the half-starved children in blockaded Gaza are having this year, and every year, and the dismal New Year prospects that face all the other Palestinian children struggling to grow up with the Israeli army’s boot on their necks.

    “This year Reuters reported that Christians in the Gaza Strip would not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas.

    “Israel grants Gaza’s Christians permits to travel abroad but not to the rest of their homeland in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where many of their holy sites are located. I’ve seen one report today that the decision has been suddenly reversed after pleadings by Christian leaders, but no confirmations so far. Of course, it should not be necessary to plead in such matters.

    “Nor is it just about religion. This is also a struggle between justice and a criminal conspiracy of huge international proportions, the tentacles of which spread far beyond the Holy Land and impact on all of us, even here in the deepest recesses of Britain’s green and pleasant land.

    “Our politicians are either paralysed or deliberately obstructive, or complicit in Israel’s thuggery. In the New Year civil society must resolve to DO SOMETHING about it, one way or another, before the evil spins irreversibly out of control.”

    • brent on December 27, 2019, 1:43 am

      From Red dress, ” In the New Year civil society must resolve to DO SOMETHING about it, one way or another, before the evil spins irreversibly out of control.”

      From Netanyahu, “We will all join the fight for justice and for our basic right to defend the State of Israel and its civilians.” From American politicians, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

      An important accomplishment for civil society would be to render mute, remove from the equation, the “defend” narrative. Essentially reframe the narrative by ending violence and focusing upon equal rights in the State of Israel.

  2. eljay on December 26, 2019, 5:43 pm

    Zionists believe that the religion-based identity of Jewish grants to those who choose to embrace it the “right” to be supremacists, to have as large as possible a supremacist state and to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality (a.k.a. “necessary evil”) they would not have others do unto them.

    Zionism is an unjust, immoral and hypocritical ideology and its adherents believe and act accordingly.

    Here’s an excellent example:

    … It is not merely that Prime Minister Netanyahu went on Hasbara overdrive with his antics, saying that ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is ignoring “the truth when she says that the very act of Jews living in their ancestral homeland, the land of the Bible, that this is a war crime”. …

    King Bibi is a deliberate liar who knows full well that:
    – geographic Palestine is not the ancestral (or ancient, historic, lost or one true) homeland of every person in the world – every citizen of every homeland throughout the world – who has chosen to embrace the religion-based identity of Jewish; and
    – ethnic cleansing, colonialism, oppression and torture (among other things) – and not “the very act of Jews living” in geographic Palestine – are (war) crimes.

  3. Talkback on December 27, 2019, 5:48 am

    Jonathan: “Read:
    We respect universal jurisdiction, but we firmly oppose its application against Israel.”

    What I read is similar but worse:
    We firmly oppose universal jurisdiction in this case, because it is a Jewish exclusive job to hold Jewish leaders accountable.

    • Citizen on December 27, 2019, 8:19 pm

      That sort of argument didn’t help the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials.

      • echinococcus on December 27, 2019, 11:25 pm

        But it does help in US courts.
        Or, to paraphrase You-Know-Who, “who remembers Nuremberg anyway? “

  4. Vera Gottlieb on December 28, 2019, 11:55 am

    And I am 100% certain that israel will smear the ICC in any which way. The day when israel will be forced to face reality has to come…How much longer does israel intend to get away with impunity?

  5. Kathleen on December 28, 2019, 12:51 pm

    Any kind of accountability for Israeli war crimes has been a long time coming.

  6. Jackdaw on December 29, 2019, 1:22 pm

    Last time I checked, Hamas, IJ and PFLP are all guilty of war crimes for their countless terror attacks against Israel’s innocent civilians.

    Oh wait, aren’t Hamas, IJ and PFLP all party members of the PA?

    And how far back will the ICC’s investigation go?
    al-Fatah’s ‘Tanzim’, have lots of blood on their hands too.

    • oldgeezer on December 29, 2019, 2:44 pm


      While Palestinian groups may indeed face war crimes, not only for their alledged attacks on Israel but also for their own treatment of Palestinian civilians their crimes pale both in severity and quantity to those perpetrated by Israel. No decent person would have issues with those guilty parties on both sides being held to account.

      I know Israelis/zionists like to claim every rocket fired from Gaza is a war crime. Perhaps so. Just as every rocket, artillery shell, and bomb from Israel is a war crime since they target civilian areas.

      There are no innocents in Gaza and they are all terrorists according to the Israeli gov. Yes just as there are no innocents in Israel save for those of nonJew Palestinian origin.

      Your one sided narrative won’t work in a court only in your sick propaganda.

      As for how far back that’s been announced so don’t be so lay and lookl it up. They can’t go back to events prior to Palestine joining the Rome Statute. They could have had the outlaw state of Israel joined the treaty. But then they are a rogue outlaw state born from terrorism and expanding through terrorism and force.

    • eljay on December 29, 2019, 3:30 pm

      || Jackdaw: Last time I checked, Hamas, IJ and PFLP are all guilty of war crimes … ||

      I agree: All (war) criminals must be arrested, tried and held accountable if found guilty. And all supremacist states must reform and become the secular and democratic states of and for the people living in and up to n-generations removed from within their respective borders.

      • echinococcus on December 29, 2019, 3:48 pm

        Bullshit, Eljay.

        Occupied peoples have the imprescriptible right to resist the occupier by all means available, period.

        Anyone who starts a war of aggression automatically accepts the entire responsibility of all consequences

  7. Donald on December 31, 2019, 10:04 am

    No democracy wants to be held accountable. It’s an admission that the citizenry as a whole was either duped or is complicit or some combination of the two. In the case of Israel, it is complicity.

    In the US, it is a mixture. And some liberals might welcome intervention against Trump. But most would not have welcomed having Obama held accountable for his war crimes.

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