A year on, Gaza Strip hopes to sue Israel for war crimes
GAZA CITY - A year after a wide-scale Israeli air, ground and sea offensive on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians hope to sue Israel for what they say were war crimes committed during a 51-day onslaught.
A high-ranking delegation representing the International Criminal Court (ICC) is to visit Israel and Gaza at the end of July, said Palestinian Authority (PA) Foreign Affairs Minister Riad al-Malki.
Malki personally delivered on June 25th to the ICC documents alleging Israeli war crimes, hoping that the world court would investigate Israeli actions in the war, which began July 7, 2014, and ended the following August 26th with an Egyptian-brokered truce.
It is the first time the Palestinians have pushed hard for an international inquiry on alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. That underlined their frustration with the force used against them in Israeli wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014 and the 48-year-old Israeli military occupation.
Malki said recently that there was no Israeli approval yet for the ICC’s visit to Gaza, allowing the delegation to cross a border from Israel. Alternatively, he said the Palestinians may have the ICC delegation go through the Rafah border crossing in Egypt.
Israel said “Operation Protective Edge” of 2014 was not meant to harm the civilian population but was aimed at Hamas militants firing missiles on Israeli cities.
However, of the 2,251 Palestinian fatalities, 1,462 were civilians, mostly women and children, said Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry. An additional 11,000 people, also mostly civilians, were wounded.
On the Israeli side, 73 people — 67 of them soldiers — were killed.
Fatima Awad, a 22-year-old college student, said she doesn’t expect much from the ICC.
“Hopes for suing those who were behind the crimes are slim,” Awad said, echoing widespread disappointment with the international community in the face of Israeli atrocities.
Gaza’s 1.8 million people feel hopeless. They are surrounded by Israeli ground forces to the north and east, naval forces to the west and the Egyptian Army to the south. People are allowed to leave the enclave but few are allowed back in.
When the Palestinians formally joined the ICC on April 1st, hopes were boosted that Israel would have to answer for its violence against Gazans. The Palestinians also hope to sue the Jewish state for “atrocities” committed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel seized the territory in 1967.
Palestinian analysts argue that two issues top the files presented to the ICC for investigation: Jewish settlements built illegally on Palestinian lands in the West Bank and the 2014 war on Gaza.
However, the analysts warn that the ICC may be unable to pressure Israel to stop its violations.
Hani al-Masri, director of the private Badil Centre for Studies in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said Palestinian diplomatic moves have failed to halt Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, stop the killing of civilians and, most importantly, attain statehood.
“The Israelis are becoming more extreme, which manifested itself in last March’s elections, whereby the hardest-line Israeli cabinet was formed,” Masri said.
“This makes it clear that the likelihood for reaching a real peace deal is impossible. By the same token, legal battles in courts are often too long and this should be a reason for Palestinians not to raise the bar.”
Abdullah Salman, 65, whose Gaza Shujaeya neighbourhood house was destroyed in the 2014 war, said it was “good to be a member of ICC and the least that could be done is to sue Israel for its crimes”.
“But I don’t think that America or the countries that are friends with Israel would accept imposing sanctions on the state or punishing it and its leaders,” he said.
Fouad Abu Asser’s two-storey home in Tuffah district was also flattened. The 54-year-old man lives with his 15-member family in a temporary prefabricated unit in eastern Gaza City. He said he doubted Israel would be held accountable.
“Israel is the enemy of the Palestinian people and it is responsible for our tragedies for more than 60 years,” Abu Asser said.
“No one in the world was able to stop Israel from violating our rights, so I don’t think that an international court decision would prevent Israel from waging another war on Gaza, destroying homes and killing more people.”