Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is reportedly on the brink of issuing arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for alleged war crimes committed during conflicts with Palestinian militants. This action by the Hague-based court has sparked fierce reactions, especially from U.S. lawmakers who have supported Israel unconditionally.

The ICC's probe, initiated in 2021, delves into activities dating back to the 2014 Gaza War, examining actions by both Israeli military and Palestinian groups.

Reports by NBC and other news sites suggest imminent charges could be laid against key Israeli figures, raising significant legal and diplomatic tensions.

Democratic Representative Brad Sherman criticised the ICC’s prospective move, calling it an overreach: “The ICC apparently considers warrants on Israeli leaders for legitimate self-defence," Sherman said, further labelling the ICC as a "kangaroo court." His sentiment is widely echoed in the U.S. Congress, where most representatives are pro-Israel and many are sponsored by the Israel lobby.

Critics, however, argue that Israel’s military responses in densely populated Palestinian areas have been disproportionately severe. The United Nations' International Court of Justice (ICJ) has suggested it is “plausible” that Israeli actions could constitute acts of genocide and is examining the case brought by South Africa against Israel for the crime of Genocide. This assertion aligns with criticisms from international human rights organisations which have repeatedly condemned Israel's tactics in Gaza as excessively harsh and in violation of international law.

Israeli leaders have sought the support of U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to intervene and prevent the issuance of any warrants. This appeal underscores the significant diplomatic leverage Israel seeks to employ to deter legal actions by the ICC.

In the U.S., political support for Israel remains strong. Representative Elise Stefanik stated, “The ICC is propping up Hamas by attempting to punish the only democracy in the Middle East just for defending itself against barbaric terrorism.” Such statements reflect a prevailing narrative in U.S. politics that frequently dismisses international legal critiques of Israeli policy.

Should the ICC go forward with arrest warrants, it would mark a critical point in international law, testing the court's ability to hold powerful states accountable. The implications extend beyond immediate legal consequences, potentially affecting Netanyahu’s and other officials' ability to travel internationally.

Critics argue that without accountability for actions deemed as war crimes by international standards, there remains a significant gap in justice for Palestinian victims. The situation highlights ongoing challenges within international law to balance national sovereignty against the imperative for global justice.

When last year the same ICC focused attention on Russian President Vladimir Putin, issuing an arrest warrant for him due to charges primarily related to the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied territories in Ukraine to Russia, the reaction from U.S. leaders and congressmen was overtly supportive. Many U.S. officials applauded the ICC's decision as a significant step toward holding Putin accountable for his actions in Ukraine. President Joe Biden endorsed the ICC's decision, stating that the warrant was "justified," highlighting the gravity of the charges, especially the unlawful deportation of children. Several members of Congress from both parties also expressed their approval, viewing the warrant as a critical move in the international effort to address war crimes and human rights abuses perpetrated during the conflict in Ukraine.
Israel on the other hand has so far killed at least 14500 Palestinian children and wounded 3 times that number and displaced over 2 million Gaza residents.

Israel has been accused of various actions that international organisations and critics have labelled as potential war crimes, particularly in the context of its conflicts in Gaza and other Palestinian territories. Here are some of the key accusations:

1. Indiscriminate Attacks and Disproportionate Use of Force: Israel has been accused of carrying out attacks that do not distinguish between military targets and civilians. During operations in densely populated areas like Gaza, the high civilian death tolls have led to allegations of disproportionate use of force.

2. Use of White Phosphorus: Israel has been criticized for its alleged use of white phosphorus, a chemical that can cause severe burns, in civilian areas. Its use in populated areas, as reported during the Gaza conflicts, has been condemned as a potential war crime.

3. Targeting Civilian Infrastructure: There have been numerous reports accusing Israel of deliberately targeting infrastructure essential for civilian life in Gaza, including schools, hospitals, water facilities, and power plants, which can constitute war crimes under international law.

4. Blockade of Gaza: The blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel, has been described by various human rights organisations as a form of collective punishment against the civilian population, a practice prohibited by international law.

5. Destruction of Housing and Forced Evictions: The demolition of homes and forced evictions in both Gaza and the West Bank have raised serious human rights concerns. These actions are often viewed as violations of international law, especially when they result in displacement without justification or provision of adequate housing or compensation.

6. Settlement Expansions: The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is considered illegal under international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

7. Attacks on Medical Personnel and Ambulances: There have been multiple reported incidents where Israeli forces allegedly targeted medical personnel and ambulances, impeding the treatment and transportation of injured Palestinians, which contravenes international humanitarian laws that protect medical services during conflicts.

These accusations have been the subject of various international debates and inquiries, including investigations by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC), though Israel disputes many of these claims and justifies its actions as necessary for its security.

As of April 30 at 3:20 pm in Gaza (12:20 GMT), the Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported staggering casualty figures with at least 34,535 people killed, including over 14,500 children and 8,400 women. Additionally, more than 77,704 individuals have been injured, and over 8,000 are missing.
In the occupied West Bank, at least 492 people have been killed, including 124 children, and over 4,800 have been injured. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have revised the death toll from the October 7 attacks down from 1,405 to 1,139, with at least 8,730 injured.

The extent of destruction in Gaza includes more than half of the homes being destroyed or damaged, 80% of commercial facilities, 73% of school buildings, and 11 out of 35 hospitals only partially functioning. Additionally, 83% of groundwater wells are not operational, and 267 places of worship have been damaged, according to the latest data from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, and the Palestinian government as of April 28. The amount of explosives dropped on Gaza equal to 3 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The most recent manifestation of Israeli war crimes is the discovery of a mass grave at Al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals with hundreds of corpses, including patients, doctors, nurses and children, with their hands tied behind their backs and executed by Israeli occupation forces. The US continues to arm Israel and just approved a $26.3bn additional aid to Netanyahu’s government.