US pressure could derail ICC arrest warrants against Israeli leaders | Israel-Palestine Conflict News

US pressure could derail ICC arrest warrants against Israeli leaders |  Israel-Palestine Conflict News

When Israel began relentlessly bombing Gaza, Rasha Abu Shaban packed a handful of belongings and fled south with her parents and siblings.

His brother stayed there for fear of never being able to return home.

Abu Shaban was in a displaced persons camp in Rafah when he learned that an Israeli missile had hit his home.

“My brother was murdered at the beginning of November. He was there with another family that was displaced in our house,” Abu Shaban, 38, told Al Jazeera. “We found out (from our neighbors) that an ambulance had been prevented from reaching them.”

Abu Shaban is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians hungry for justice after losing loved ones, property and livelihoods to Israel’s devastating war on Gaza, which began after a Hamas-led attack on communities and outposts. Israeli military on October 7.

Around 1,139 Israelis were killed in that attack and 250 were taken captive. Since then, Israel has killed more than 35,500 Palestinians in a campaign of violence that U.N. special rapporteur Francesca Albanese and other legal experts have called genocide.

On May 20, after months of gathering evidence, International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced that he was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as for Hamas leader Yahya. Sinwar; the head of the movement’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh; and the head of his military wing, Mohammed Deif.

Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of using “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” “exterminating,” “intentionally causing great suffering,” and deliberately “directing attacks against civilians.”

Hamas leaders are accused of “extermination,” “hostage-taking,” and “torture.”

Khan’s announcement marks the first time an ICC chief prosecutor has attempted to prosecute senior officials from a close US ally, marking a significant moment in the body’s history.

While Khan’s announcement gives Abu Shaban hope that Palestinians may one day get justice, she fears that Israel and the United States will pressure ICC judges to reject Khan’s requests.

“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “I’m really concerned that the United States and Israel… will prevent the arrest (warrants) from being issued.”

American threats

Weeks before Khan’s announcement, top Republican lawmakers in the United States submitted a letter to his office threatening to ban him and his family from entering the country if he sought injunctions against Israeli leaders.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Khan said a senior US elected official even told him that the ICC “was built for Africa” and for “thugs like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” but not for Western leaders. or backed by the West.

“We don’t see it that way,” Khan said. “This court is the legacy of Nuremberg, and this court is a sad indictment of humanity, and this court should be the triumph of law over power and brute force.”

US President Joe Biden criticized Khan’s decision and called the request for impeachment against Israeli leaders “outrageous”.

Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several US lawmakers said Khan had drawn a false moral equivalence between Hamas “terrorists” and democratically elected Israeli leaders.

Similar statements have been made by Netanyahu, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But Adil Haque, a legal scholar at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said those arguments have no legal weight.

Israel’s allies are using a “rhetorical device” to undermine Khan’s equal application of international law, he explained.

“Basically, the prosecutor is saying that Israeli government officials have violated international law and that Hamas leaders have violated international law and that those violations are serious,” Haque told Al Jazeera.

“People can argue whether the charges against Hamas leaders are better or worse (than those brought against Israeli leaders), but that is not the prosecutor’s business.”

Pressure and retaliation?

Three judges from the ICC’s pretrial chamber are now deliberating on issuing the arrest warrants.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch urged all ICC members to protect the court’s independence against “hostile pressures that are likely to increase as ICC judges consider Khan’s request.”

The United States – which is not a member of the Rome Statute, the treaty that underpins the ICC – is considering sanctions against court officials.

Three years ago, the Biden administration lifted sanctions that former President Donald Trump had imposed on former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and other officials.

Trump was angry that Bensouda had opened investigations into Israeli abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory and abuses by US forces in Afghanistan.

Mark Kursten, a legal expert at the University of the Fraser Valley in Vancouver, believes the United States could also try to put direct pressure on Palestinian officials.

“I think (a possible US goal) would be to get the PA (Palestinian Authority) to stop cooperating with the ICC (by getting it to stop sending evidence),” said Mark Kursten, a legal scholar at Fraser University. He valley in Vancouver.

Heidi Matthews, a legal scholar at York University in Toronto, added that the United States also has a history of pressuring its Western allies to betray their commitments to the Rome Statute.

“From a foreign policy perspective, (Khan’s decision) will put long-time supporters of the court, who are also allies of Israel… in a position where they will have to choose between continuing to support the international criminal law and justice or diplomatically protect Israel. he told Al Jazeera.

‘I lost my whole life’

Local human rights groups welcomed Khan’s move as a first step in seeking justice for Palestinians in Gaza, including those who were killed long before October 7.

A source at the Gaza-based Al Mezan Human Rights Center, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from Israel, referred to Israel’s killing of 1,462 Palestinian civilians in 51 days in its 2014 war against Gaza. .

An independent UN investigation found “credible allegations of war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian armed groups” in that war.

Four years later, Israeli troops also shot and killed unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza who gathered along the fence with Israel as part of the Great March of Return protests.

“We believe that the (ICC) arrest warrants can have a deterrent effect,” the Al Mezan Center source told Al Jazeera.

Abu Shaban, who is now in Qatar, added that the perceptible shift in global public opinion away from Israel indicates that justice is within our reach despite pressure from the United States and Israel.

“The (ICC) decision to seek court orders means that there are more people seeking to hold Israel accountable for the atrocities it commits. If these efforts continue, they will eventually lead to something,” he told Al Jazeera.

Additionally, Abu Shaban said he deserves justice for his brother and for the anguish that Israel’s occupation and siege of Gaza has caused so many Palestinians.

“I grew up under intifadas, invasions, (communication) cuts and humiliations at (Israeli-controlled) crossings,” he said. “I lost someone (in my family) and I lost my life.”

“I lived my whole life under Israeli occupation.”