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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan files applications for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yaov Gallant

Image via video screenshot on X

In a move clearly calculated to put pressure on the government of Israel to end its attacks in Gaza, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan's office has announced that it is filing applications for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yaov Gallant.

In a statement released Monday, May 20 he stated: "On the basis of evidence collected and examined by my Office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin NETANYAHU, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Yoav GALLANT, the Minister of Defence of Israel, bear criminal responsibility for  the following war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 8 October 2023:

  • Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Statute;

  • Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii), or cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);

  • Wilful killing contrary to article 8(2)(a)(i), or Murder as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);

  • Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime contrary to articles 8(2)(b)(i), or 8(2)(e)(i);

  • Extermination and/or murder contrary to articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including in the context of deaths caused by starvation, as a crime against humanity;

  • Persecution as a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h);

  • Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k).

My Office submits that the war crimes alleged in these applications were committed in the context of an international armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hamas (together with other Palestinian Armed Groups) running in parallel. We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.

My Office submits that the evidence we have collected, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements from the alleged perpetrator group, shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.

This occurred through the imposition of a total siege over Gaza that involved completely closing the three border crossing points, Rafah, Kerem Shalom and Erez, from 8 October 2023 for extended periods and then by arbitrarily restricting the transfer of essential supplies – including food and medicine – through the border crossings after they were reopened. The siege also included cutting off cross-border water pipelines from Israel to Gaza – Gazans’ principal source of clean water – for a prolonged period beginning 9 October 2023, and cutting off and hindering electricity supplies from at least 8 October 2023 until today. This took place alongside other attacks on civilians, including those queuing for food; obstruction of aid delivery by humanitarian agencies; and attacks on and killing of aid workers, which forced many agencies to cease or limit their operations in Gaza.

My Office submits that these acts were committed as part of a common plan to use starvation as a method of war and other acts of violence against the Gazan civilian population as a means to (i) eliminate Hamas; (ii) secure the return of the hostages which Hamas has abducted, and (iii) collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza, whom they perceived as a threat to Israel.

The effects of the use of starvation as a method of warfare, together with other attacks and collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are acute, visible and widely known, and have been confirmed by multiple witnesses interviewed by my Office, including local and international medical doctors. They include malnutrition, dehydration, profound suffering and an increasing number of deaths among the Palestinian population, including babies, other children, and women.

Famine is present in some areas of Gaza and is imminent in other areas. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned more than two months ago, “1.1 million people in Gaza are facing catastrophic hunger – the highest number of people ever recorded – anywhere, anytime” as a result of an “entirely manmade disaster”. Today, my Office seeks to charge two of those most responsible, NETANYAHU and GALLANT, both as co-perpetrators and as superiors pursuant to Articles 25 and 28 of the Rome Statute.

Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population. That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any State of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law. Notwithstanding any military goals they may have, the means Israel chose to achieve them in Gaza – namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal."

His office is also seeking warrants for Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, chief of the military wing of Hamas, the Al-Qassam Brigades, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau for actions taken by Hamas on October 7.

Al Jazeera reports that "decision by the ICC prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”, a senior Hamas official told the Reuters news agency.

Sami Abu Zuhri also said the ICC decision gives encouragement to Israel to continue its “war of extermination” in Gaza."

James Bays, Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor writes of the decision to go public today:

I think it is interesting that he’s decided to make this public at this stage because the other important decision by Khan in the last couple of years is when he brought an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin and his children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova – that was in March 2023.
At that stage there were arrest warrants. We’re not at this stage; he’s gone public saying there should be arrest warrants and he needs to go to the judges.
Last time, he had already gone to the judges and it was made public that the judges have approved the recommendation.
I can’t tell you the reason why but perhaps he’s trying to force an end to the violence by speaking out as early as possibly and try to force efforts for a ceasefire. That seems to be a possibility why he’s decided to act this way.


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