Palestinians file war crimes claim with ICC over Bedouin village

Bolton denounces the legitimacy of ICC, says US would protect Israel from the Hague-based court.
Tuesday 11/09/2018
Animals are herded in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar that Israel plans to demolish, in the occupied West Bank September 11. (Reuters)
Animals are herded in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar that Israel plans to demolish, in the occupied West Bank September 11. (Reuters)

LONDON - A top Palestinian official said the Palestinians have filed a war crimes claim against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over its planned razing of a West Bank Bedouin village.

Saeb Erekat says Israel should be held accountable for its plan on Khan al-Ahmar.

The Khan al-Ahmar encampment has focused attention on what critics say is the continued displacement of Palestinians by Israel. European countries urged Israel this week to refrain from demolition.

Israel said Khan al-Ahmar was illegally built and has offered to resettle residents 12 kilometers (7 miles) away. Critics say its removal is meant to make room for an Israeli settlement.

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal last week, paving the way for demolition.

Palestinian activists have set up five shipping containers near Khan al-Ahmar to protest against razing it by Israel.

The Khan al-Ahmar encampment has focused attention on what critics say is the continued displacement of Palestinians by Israel. European countries urged Israel this week to refrain from demolition.

Palestinian activist Abdallah Abu Rahmeh said Tuesday that setting up the white shipping containers, one with a Palestinian flag, is a message to Israel that “it’s our right to build on our land.”

The Palestinian envoy to Washington said his staffers have been given a month to pack up after the Trump administration ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization mission closed.

Husam Zomlot told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the closure would not deter Palestinians from seeking a state with east Jerusalem as the capital.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday that the mission was being shut because the PLO, in his words, had not taken steps toward negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas halted ties with the Trump administration in December after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Bolton also denounced the legitimacy of the Hague-based ICC court, which was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. It has 123 state parties that recognize its jurisdiction.

“The International Criminal Court unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and US national security interests,” Bolton told the Federalist Society, a conservative Washington-based think tank. Bolton also took aim at Palestinian efforts to press war crime charges against Israel for its policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

He said the US would use “any means necessary” to protect Americans and citizens of allied countries, like Israel, “from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.” The White House said that to the extent permitted by US law, the Trump administration would ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanction their funds in the US financial system and prosecute them in the US criminal system.

“We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said, adding that “for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

It was an extraordinary rebuke decried by human rights groups who complained it was another Trump administration rollback of US leadership in demanding accountability for gross abuses.

“Any US action to scuttle ICC inquiries on Afghanistan and Palestine would demonstrate that the administration was more concerned with coddling serial rights abusers — and deflecting scrutiny of US conduct in Afghanistan — than supporting impartial justice,” said Human Rights Watch.

Since its creation, the court has filed charges against dozens of suspects including former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by rebels before he could be arrested, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of charges including genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir remains at large, as does Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who was among the first rebels charged by the court in 2005. The court has convicted just eight defendants.

The court has been hobbled by the refusal of the US, Russia, China and other major nations to join. Others have quit: Burundi and the Philippines, whose departure, announced earlier this year, takes effect next March.

The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had serious reservations about the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to US sovereignty.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize US troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially “unsign” the Rome Statute at the United Nations.

Bush’s first administration then embarked on a diplomatic drive to get countries who were members of the ICC to sign so-called Article 98 agreements that would bar those nations from prosecuting Americans before the court under penalty of sanctions. The administration was largely successful in its effort, getting more than 100 countries to sign the agreements. Some of those, however, have not been formally ratified.

In Bush’s second term, the US attitude toward the ICC shifted slightly as the world looked on in horror at genocide being committed in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The administration did not oppose and offered limited assistance to an ICC investigation in Darfur.

The Obama administration expanded that cooperation, offering additional support to the ICC as it investigated the then-Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army and its top leadership, including Kony.

On Monday, Bolton effectively turned Washington’s back on the court, accusing it of corruption and inefficiency. Above all, he took aim at the court’s view that citizens of nonmember states are subject to its jurisdiction.

“The ICC is an unprecedented effort to vest power in a supranational body without the consent of either nation-states or the individuals over which it purports to exercise jurisdiction,” Bolton said. “It certainly has no consent whatsoever from the United States.”

(Arab Weekly and news agencies)