ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

More than 40 countries including the US and Israel refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies. (AFP/File)
More than 40 countries including the US and Israel refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 February 2021

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say

ICC must investigate Israeli war crimes, human rights groups say
  • After Trump sanctions, US seeks election to seat on Human Rights Council in 2022

Officials representing leading human rights groups on Thursday urged US President Joe Biden to remove sanctions imposed by his predecessor against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials, arguing war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians must be investigated.

The ICC was created in 2002 based on the principles of the Rome Statute drawn up by the United Nations in 1998, and on legal precedents defined during the Nuremberg Trials after Second World War which prosecuted Nazi war crimes.

Although 123 nations have joined the ICC, more than 40 countries including the US and Israel, which originally supported the Rome Statutes, refuse to join and reject the ICC’s authority because of investigations into Israel’s military policies.

Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other human rights activists from around the world took part in a webinar panel on Thursday. The forum was hosted by the Foundation for Middle East Peace and its president, Lara Friedman.

“What we saw (Wednesday) in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is the US expressing its intention to rejoin,” said Dr. Michael Kearney, a legal researcher for Al-Haq, the Palestinian human rights agency based in Ramallah.

“But it is doing so on the condition that Palestine is removed from the agenda of the Human Rights Council. We have to be cautious about what the US is basing that re-engagement.”

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the council in 2018. Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday the US would seek re-election to the council in 2022. He said probes into Syria and North Korea along with preserving LGBTQI rights and combating racism should be priorities.

“The Human Rights Council must support those fighting against injustice and tyranny,” Blinken said.

“We acknowledge the challenges at the Council as well, including unacceptable bias against Israel and membership rules that allow countries with atrocious human rights records to occupy seats they do not merit.”

The sanctions imposed on the ICC by Trump and mixed signals from the Biden administration have not dissuaded the organization from investigating allegations of Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

On Feb. 5, the ICC “pre-trial chamber” found that “the court’s territorial jurisdiction in the situation in Palestine, a state party to the ICC Rome Statute, extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

This ruling opened the door for investigations into alleged war crimes perpetrated by “members of the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli authorities, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups,” Friedman said.

The panelists agreed that Israel has engaged in political policies to deny Palestine of any protected rights under ICC authority.

The ICC decision to move forward in its investigation came despite threats from the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Trump issued an executive order imposing sanctions against top ICC officials, along with individuals and corporate entities assisting the ICC probe.

Yael Stein, a research director at the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights (B’Tselem), argued that Israel has created a sophisticated legal system to confuse the international rule of law as it applies to the actions of Israeli soldiers.

“Israel claims that it will investigate itself,” Stein said. “But it is not investigating the charges against itself. The Israelis do not investigate the orders. They only address the question, ‘Did the soldiers obey the legal orders they were given?’”

She said charges are watered down to “insignificant claims.”

“If a soldier kills a civilian, he is charged with not obeying an order so he can avoid a murder charge,” she said. “(Israeli authorities) are able to assert that they in fact do investigate cases.”

Hassan Jabareen, the founder of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), referred to this as “Israel’s legal black hole.”

“Israel creates a situation in which there is a black hole of legality where they ensure that legality is applied, and as a consequence, no one is charged or held to be responsible,” Jabareen said.

“One way they did this was in 2007 when Israel declared that Gaza is an ‘enemy.’ Therefore, everyone in Gaza is an enemy and even if someone is injured illegally, there will be no consequences against Israeli soldiers.”

The victims in Gaza, he said, are legally denied access to Israeli courts because they are all defined as “enemies” of Israel.

Kearney said that the significance of the ICC ruling this month applies directly to the illegal establishment of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem that were occupied by Israel in 1967.

He said Israel tried to exclude the issue of war crimes in the Rome Statutes in 1998, specifically to prevent the inclusion of settlements and population transfers.

Gallagher noted that Biden has not yet lifted the Trump administration sanctions on the ICC because Israel is lobbying to keep them in place.
 


Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
Updated 43 min 50 sec ago

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
  • Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya would be an “important signal” as both leaders vowed to support the new interim government there, a German government spokesman said.
Libya’s new unity government was sworn in on March 15 from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a relatively smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.
Turkey had backed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, which was supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in its efforts to improve the supply situation for the population and in preparing elections by year-end, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor emphasized that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” the spokesman added.
Merkel and Erdogan also discussed international efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as regional issues such as the civil war in Syria and international talks about the Cyprus issue, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor and the Turkish President emphasized that adequate access for humanitarian aid to the people in need in Syria must be maintained,” the spokesman said. (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alistair Bell)


Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed
Updated 06 May 2021

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

JERUSALEM: The lone Israeli court judge looking into the eviction appeal lodged by Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem has decided to let three judges of the Supreme Court take up the case on Monday.

The decision follows the rejection of both the Jewish settler organization and lawyers for the Palestinian families to reach an agreement between them as requested by the judge.

Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein, representing the Palestinian families, told Arab News that the Israeli judge did not have the courage to take the right decision.

“Our request to appeal the eviction was based on sound legal arguments that any judge would have easily accepted but the prevailing atmosphere made it difficult for the judge to stand up for justice.”

Head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel Mohammad Baraka and member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi met with representatives of the families in Jerusalem and later issued a statement of support for their “steadfastness” and their rejections of compromise offers.

Tibi told Arab News that the priority is to support the Palestinian families and to protect the Arab identity of Jerusalem. “It is clear that the aim of this unjust eviction effort is to Judaize the Arab city of Jerusalem,” he said.

Abdel Latif Ghaith, a senior veteran Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that the public support for the people of Sheikh Jarrah must continue without any hesitation.

“What is clear is that the Israeli courts will not act on their own even in a case where justice is so obvious. The public pressure both local, regional and international, together with the legal effort and the undisputed documentation, will reverse the effort of the Jewish settlers bent on taking over this Palestinian area,” he said.

Ehab Abdel Latif, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who has illegal Jewish settlers on two sides of his house, said he is worried. “Although we are not at present threatened with eviction, if the Israeli courts insist on turning a blind eye to the facts in this case and give unquestioned support to the Jewish settlers, then we are all doomed.”


Jordan was in control of Jerusalem when the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built housing units on the vacant land and started to charge Palestinians rent. Settler organizations, which also claim to be the owners of the land, are now demanding rent payment.

Layer Abu Hussein explained that the compromise the courts wanted failed because of the gap between both sides. Palestinians said that they are willing to avoid eviction on grounds of not paying the rent by depositing the rent to a fund at the courts, while the Jewish settler organization Lahav Shomron is willing to allow the Palestinians to stay at their homes on condition that they pay rent to them. But if this happens the settlers will be considered landowners.

According to the rent protection law in Jerusalem, the offer by the settler organization allows Palestinian families to stay as long as a designated member of the family is alive. Thereafter, the settler organization would take over the homes. Palestinian residents have rejected this offer.

New evidence, which has emerged from the Ottoman records in Turkey and the Jordanian government, proves Jordan and the UNRWA agreed to build housing units on the land for Palestinians, Abu Hussein said. The land actually belonged to the Hijazi Saadi family, dated 1149 Hijri (1736 AD).

Using old Ottoman documents, the settlers’ side said the land belonged to an oriental Jewish group that registered itself in 1972.

Palestinian lawyers dispute this claim, arguing that the documents in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul that the settlers refer to do not exist and are forged.

Abu Hussein said that settlers have made ownership claims without proof that they are the original owners of the land.


Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
Updated 06 May 2021

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
  • El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has reiterated that the issue of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) is an “existential issue” for Egyptians, adding that his country will not accept any risk to its water supply.

In a meeting with US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman on Wednesday, El-Sisi said Egypt is keen to enhance bilateral cooperation with the US and underlined the vital role of such a partnership in achieving stability in the Middle East and Africa.

A spokesman for El-Sisi said the two men discussed several issues relevant to the Horn of Africa, foremost of which was the GERD. Feltman said the US is keen to help reach “a fair and comprehensive settlement” to the matter, given its great importance to Egypt and the region.

Ethiopia started building the 1.8 km-long gravity dam in 2011. Egypt fears it will threaten its supplies of water from the River Nile. Sudan, meanwhile, is concerned about the dam’s safety and its effect on the water supply of Sudanese dams and water stations.

El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods. Egypt’s approach, he said, has been based on seeking a “balanced and legally binding” agreement that respects the interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. He blamed Ethiopia’s “lack of political will” for the failure of negotiations to date.

The president stressed that Egypt is still seeking a fair agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam under the negotiations sponsored by the African Union, led this year by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

El-Sisi called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities” to help solve the crisis. The president also highlighted the vital role of US influence in this regard.

Feltman said the US values its strategic relations with Egypt highly in light of Cairo’s political influence and pivotal role in the region. The envoy also stressed America’s desire to boost cooperation with Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati also met with Feltman. They told him that Egypt still hopes to reach an agreement over the GERD before summer this year.

They added that the process of filling the dam should be carried out according to an agreement that respects the interests of Egypt and Sudan — the two downstream nations — and limits any damage to those two countries.

During their meeting with Feltman, the ministers expressed Egypt’s willingness do as much as possible to ensure the success of the negotiations sponsored by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both ministers said Egypt is looking forward to cooperating with its international partners, especially the US, to achieve this goal.


Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
Updated 06 May 2021

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
  • The captain of one of the boats was "slightly injured" and transferred to an Italian navy vessel
  • There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast

ROME: The Libyan coast guard on Thursday fired on three Italian fishing boats, injuring the captain of one of the vessels, Italian authorities said.
The boats operating out of the Sicilian port of Mazara del Vallo were fishing some 30 to 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coastal town of Misrata when a Libyan coast guard vessel fired warning shots against them.
Giuseppe Giacalone, the captain of one of the boats, was “slightly injured” and transferred to an Italian navy vessel, the mayor of Mazara del Vallo, Salvatore Quinci, told Reuters, confirming reports in Italian media.
There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast.
Last September a group of Italian sailors were seized by Libyan patrol boats while fishing in the Mediterranean, accused by local authorities of operating in Libya’s territorial waters. They were released some three months later.
“This is the umpteenth attack by the Libyan government in Tripoli,” Quinci told Reuters.
The southern Mediterranean fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12.
Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, tweeted that the latest incident was “inconceivable” and Mario Draghi’s government “must not be satisfied by apologies or vague explanations” from Libya.
Libya’s new unity government took office in March from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.


French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
Updated 06 May 2021

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
  • Arab News learns that Le Drian hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those blocking formation of government

BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed during his meetings with Lebanese officials on Thursday that “the French initiative to solve the crisis in forming the Lebanese government is still in force and the responsibility for implementing it rests with the Lebanese.”

Arab News has learned that Le Drian also hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those who obstruct the formation of the new government.

On the eve of his arrival in Beirut, Le Drian tweeted that he would deliver “a strongly worded message to political officials and a message expressing our full solidarity with the Lebanese people. We will deal firmly with those who obstruct the formation of the government, and we have taken national measures, and this is only the beginning.”

He also said that his visit to Lebanon “confirms France’s solidarity in the field of education, medicine, and archeology as well as its support for the Lebanese who are doing their best for their country.”

Following the Beirut port blast in August, French President Emmanuel Macron announced an initiative to help form a government of specialists to help lift Lebanon out of its economic crisis.

However, Macron’s initiative has not yet been implemented, so people in Lebanon followed Le Drian’s meetings with interest.

Before Le Drian’s visit there was speculation that he did not intend to meet with Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, but might meet with the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil.

Some had predicted that Hariri would give up his post as PM-designate due to his ongoing disagreement with President Michel Aoun and his political team over the formation of the new government, with Aoun reportedly demanding a ‘blocking third’ for his allies.

However, after meeting with Aoun, Le Drian also met with Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri as well as Hariri.

Aoun’s media office reported that, during his meeting with Le Drian, the president said, “Achieving reforms, foremost of which is the financial audit, which constitutes the first item in the French initiative announced on Sept. 1, 2020, is essential for the advancement of Lebanon and restoring the confidence of the Lebanese and the international community. Forming a new government that will enjoy the confidence of parliament is the top priority.”

Aoun pledged to “continue exerting efforts to reach practical results in this issue, despite the internal and external obstacles and the lack of response of those concerned, by following the constitutional principles and methodology adopted in forming governments.”

He also laid out “the constitutional responsibilities entrusted to the president ... and his responsibility to maintain political and sectarian balance during the formation of the government to ensure that it gains the confidence of parliament” and spoke about the “cost of wasted time to complete the formation process.”

The meeting between Aoun and Le Drian lasted for half an hour, after which Le Drian left without making a statement.

Le Drian held meetings at the Senoub Palace with a number of opposition and partisan figures, including leaders of groups protesting against the corruption of the ruling authority. These groups presented their views on the current reality in Lebanon and their vision of ways in which France could provide assistance to Lebanon to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, stage parliamentary elections, and address financial cases.

However, several groups declined the invitation, including the “Li Haqqi” (I Have My Right) group. Nizar Hassan, a researcher in social movements from that group, told Arab News: “A lengthy discussion took place within the group about the feasibility of attending the meeting with the French minister, and we decided not to attend because there was no great benefit (in doing so).”

He said there were several reasons for this, including “the rejection of France’s attempt to bring the political class in Lebanon to the surface to restore it to power again.”

Future Movement MP Mohamad Hajjar described the speculation that Le Drian would not meet with Hariri as “illogical.”

He said Hariri is committed to “forming a government of specialists to help the country, while another party insists on putting the country on the brink and is dealing with everyone on the basis that either MP Gebran Bassil be the next president or the country will fall into chaos. And Hezbollah is watching.”

Lebanon’s economic crisis reached a new peak on Thursday when Electricité du Liban (EDL) announcement that it no longer had enough money to buy fuel and that it would “be forced to reduce its production, which would negatively impact the feeding hours in all regions, including the administrative areas of Beirut.”

This came hours after the financial prosecutor, Judge Ali Ibrahim, issued a decision to stop the payment of sums owed to the Turkish energy company Karadeniz and its Karpowership branch in Lebanon for power ships chartered to produce electricity.

The judge’s decision was based on “preliminary investigations conducted by the Financial Prosecutor’s Office into the possibility of brokers, commission, or corruption in the dealership of ships producing electricity” and is intended to “oblige the two aforementioned companies to return $25 million to the Lebanese state, and to circulate a search and inquiry order against the owners of the two companies.”

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Council suspended a law that parliament had approved granting and advance from the treasury to EDL after MPs from the Lebanese Forces Party filed an appeal “because the advance will use the money of the people and depositors remaining in the reserves of the Banque du Liban to finance electricity, and this was described by the MPs as burning people’s money.”

The Constitutional Council stressed, “If the law violates the constitution, it will be annulled, and if it is not in violation, we will reject the appeal.”