International Court Warms Up for War-Crimes Probe

YERUSHALAYIM (AP/Hamodia) -

The prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court is sending a delegation Wednesday to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to address the officials and the public about its preliminary examination of possible war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories.

In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said its delegation is arriving for a six-day visit to “address any misperceptions” about the court. It said the delegation will hold meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, grant media interviews to Israeli and Palestinian press, and participate in events at academic institutions, but will not collect evidence in relation to alleged crimes.

The ICC’s prosecutor launched its examination in January. Palestinian officials submitted materials regarding Israeli conduct in the Gaza Strip and housing construction in Yehudah and Shomron, and in eastern Yerushalayim. The ICC probe intends to establish if there are grounds to open a full-scale investigation.

In a break with policy, Israeli officials will meet with the delegation, one official confirmed. In the past, citing the record of bias of investigators, Israel has refused to cooperate with U.N. and other international investigations of alleged war crimes, even to the point of denying U.N. officials entry.

Neither officials from the UNHRC’s Goldstone Report on the 2008–9 Gaza war nor from the body’s McGowan-Davis Report on the 2014 Gaza war were permitted to enter the country.

While it was unclear why ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has decided to send a delegation at this time, The Jerusalem Post pointed out that Israel has been discussing the matter with her office since July 2015, which was itself unusual.

However, it comes not long after the latest development in Israel’s own investigations of alleged war crimes. A fifth report on the Gaza war issued by the IDF legal division on August 24 found that, in four cases of allegations of killing large numbers of civilians — adding up to a total of 49 people — the IDF strikes were legal due to either mistakes, Hamas being responsible or an attack not happening at all.

Out of 360 incidents the IDF has reviewed, 31 have led to full criminal investigations, 13 have been closed and one, a case of theft, has led to an indictment.

In a February interview, Bensouda would not commit about whether the decision to move from a preliminary examination to a full criminal investigation or not would be made before the end of her term in 2021.

“I cannot sit here and say that it will take seven years, or it will take 10 years or it will take any number of years … all of this depends on the facts and the circumstances. The preliminary examination cannot be given a timeline,” Bensouda said.