Global support for ICC decision to investigate Israeli war crimes

An Israeli border police officer detains a Palestinian in front of the controversial Israeli barrier. The ICC has taken initiative on Friday to bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 December 2019

Global support for ICC decision to investigate Israeli war crimes

  • After years of deliberation, ICC’s Fatou Bensouda’s decision was welcomed by Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur

AMMAN: There has been strong international support in reaction to the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to initiate an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.

After five years of deliberation, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision was welcomed by Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

Lynk told Arab News that the two counts that Bensouda had identified, namely over settlements and armed conflict in Gaza, could lead to a trial in the Hague. The continued illegal settlement activity in the occupied territories are the very definition of a war crime, he said, and moving civilian populations to occupied areas was a clear violation of international humanitarian law. 

Lynk, a professor of international law, said if convicted, every official who had facilitated the moving of civilians to occupied areas would be held accountable. Accountability “would apply to Israeli political and military leaders as well as settlers” involved in obtaining funds to build illegal dwellings, he said.

“On the settlement issue, it is an open and shut case: There is a strong argument that settlements are a violation of international law,” Lynk said, adding that similar considerations would also apply to the 2014 war in Gaza, which led to the deaths of 1,500 Palestinians.

 

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Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine, told Arab News it was quite clear that the prosecutor had identified the ICC could “move forward with a probe of crimes (committed in) settlements and (the) armed escalation in Gaza by both armed groups and the Israeli army.”

 

Shakir, who is currently residing in Amman after he was deported from Israel last month, said that the decision, though important, was still at too early a stage to tell whether or not the investigation would lead to accountability.

One of the reasons for the hesitation among experts is that the Bensouda is dependent on the outcome of a criminal jurisdiction test. Shakir called the delay “an unnecessary procedural move which will only delay justice for the victims.”

Israel should be put on notice ... their efforts to rewrite international law have failed, and the arc of justice will prevail.

Omar Shakir, Director, Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine

Lynk added: “The prosecutor could have moved directly without asking for jurisdiction. It is Indefensible to ask procedural questions five years into a preliminary inquiry. At the same time, the report makes clear the need for accountability precisely where impunity continues to reign.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told Palestinian TV that the delay would be settled within 120 days, stating: “A decision will be made before April 2020.” 

However, Shakir argued it could allow the issue to drag. “I think the timeline questions are tricky — it is difficult to project the timeline for justice and accountability. Victims are facing a wall of impunity; one day more is too long. Perpetrators of serious crimes must face justice immediately,” he said.

US and Israeli officials have spoken against the decision, while the Palestinian leadership has welcomed it. Shakir argued that the US had for a number of years taken a problematic position on the issue of alleged Israeli crimes, but noted that the ICC had now sent a strong message to the current Israeli government, and its allies abroad, that further annexation of territory, in the Jordan Valley, for instance, would not be tolerated by the international community. 

“Israel should be put on notice. This should be a clear message to the Israeli government that their efforts to rewrite international law have failed, and the arc of justice will prevail. Israelis should realize the world will no longer fall for their excuses.”


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”