Netanyahu calls for sanctions over ICC war crimes investigation

Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem
Photograph: Reuters

Benjamin Netanyahu has called for sanctions against the international criminal court and people who work for it, a month after its chief prosecutor announced she intended to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

“I think that everybody should rise up against this,” the Israeli prime minister said in an interview with Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest Christian television network.

“The US government under President Trump has spoken forcefully against the ICC for this travesty, and I urge all your viewers to do the same. To ask for concrete actions, sanctions, against the international court – its officials, its prosecutors, everyone.”

Netanyahu’s calls come months after Washington used a similar tactic to block a separate potential ICC investigation into its troops’ conduct in Afghanistan. It announced in March that it would deny entry to ICC officials, and later revoked a visa held by the ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

ICC judges later refused to open the investigation, citing a lack of cooperation from parties involved, including Afghan authorities and the Taliban, but also the US.

It was not clear if Netanyahu intended to also block ICC officials from entering the country, which could hamper its work because Israel controls access to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The case involving Israel follows years of preliminary investigations. Bensouda said in December that she would seek to open a formal inquiry into alleged continuing war crimes in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

It would look at alleged crimes carried out by both Israelis and Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, which has been accused of “intentionally directing attacks against civilians”, according to Bensouda’s office.

She intends to investigate incidents during the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas. The case could also be expanded to include the alleged killings by Israeli soldiers of more than 200 Palestinians, including more than 40 children, at demonstrations along the Gaza frontier during the past two years.

Separately, Bensouda argued there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that Israeli authorities had committed war crimes by moving Israeli civilians into the West Bank to live in settlements. Under the Geneva convention, signed after the second world war, the transfer of civilians into occupied land is prohibited.

In his interview, Netanyahu, who intends to declare large parts of the Palestinian territories as Israeli land, said the ICC was impinging on “Israel’s right, the Jewish people’s right, to live in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel”.

While Israel rejects the court’s jurisdiction and has not signed up to the international treaty, the ICC’s mandate is to prosecute people, not countries, including those from states that are not signatories.

The Israeli government has also argued that as Palestine is not a state, it should not be allowed to petition the court. Palestine used its UN observer state status, gained in 2012, to join the ICC. Before opening the formal investigation, Bensouda has requested that ICC judges “confirm” the court’s jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories.