Palestine Submits Documents to International Criminal Court Alleging Israeli War Crimes

2015-06-24T101525Z_1_LYNXMPEB5N0F0_RTROPTP_3_ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-GAZA-WAR
Palestinian boys play next to houses that witnesses said were destroyed during the 50-day Gaza war last summer, in the east of Gaza City, Palestine, on May 4, 2015. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

A Palestinian delegation has submitted hundreds of pages of documents to the International Criminal Court (ICC) detailing complaints against Israel for its conduct during the 50-day Gaza war last summer.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed in Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last summer. In Israel, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians were killed. The files, submitted to the court by Palestinian Authority Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Malki in The Hague, the Netherlands, Thursday morning, allege that Israel and its military violated international law and committed war crimes during the offensive. If proved, these charges which could lead to the indictment of senior Israeli military and political officials, The Guardian reports.

Palestine's submission to the ICC comes three days after a United Nations commission of inquiry found that militants on both the Israel and Palestine sides violated international law during the conflict and could be guilty of war crimes. Israel pre-empted the commission's report by releasing its own report claiming that its offensive against Gaza last summer was legal.

A separate U.N. report published in April said that Israel was responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians at U.N.-run schools in Gaza during the war. The report also found that Palestinian fighters kept rockets and other weapons in vacant schools that were "probably" the origin sites for rockets fired at Israel. Human rights group Amnesty International has released reports also criticizing both sides: one in November, which accused Israel of war crimes during the Gaza conflict, and one in May charging Hamas with an array of human rights violations during that time.

The complaints submitted Thursday by Palestine refer to conduct by Israel and its military between June 13, 2014, and May 31, 2015, according to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It covers the state of Palestine, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza governorates. Palestine formally joined the ICC in April. Israel is not party to the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The documents, which have not been made public, also contain information and statistics on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to statistics on prisoners, the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department said in a statement posted on its website ahead of the submission.

The ICC's Office of the Prosecutor says the information is not a referral by Palestine or a lawsuit against Israel and the information does not trigger an investigation. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, has to decide if Palestine's complaint warrants a preliminary investigation, which could then lead to a full criminal investigation. The document was submitted after a request from Bensouda for more information on January 16, 2015, to begin a preliminary investigation, Ynetnews reports.

Palestine can also make its own formal criminal complaint to the ICC if Bensouda declines to pursue the case.

The delivery of the documents "is considered a fundamental step in the process of ending Israeli impunity and bringing justice to the Palestinian people," the PLO in a statement. "As a whole, the communication confirms that the absence of accountability has led to the recurrence of violations and crimes and will continue to do so if gone unchecked," the PLO said.

"This is a Palestinian attempt to manipulate and politicize the judicial mechanisms of the ICC," Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Al-Jazeera. "We hope that the prosecutor will not fall in that trap."

The ICC's Office of the Prosecutor "will independently assess the information received for the purposes of its preliminary examination work," the court said in a statement emailed to Newsweek. "Under the Rome Statute, anyone can submit information to the prosecutor on alleged crimes, whether it is states, NGOs, individuals or any other organization."

Palestine Submits Documents to International Criminal Court Alleging Israeli War Crimes | World