The Palestinian campaign to “bring Israel to the dock” at the International Criminal Court (ICC) did not suddenly arise out of “frustration” at the failure of the peace talks, the setback at the UN Security Council, or other recent events.
Rather, the strategy was explicitly adopted during the negotiations of the Rome Statute that led to the establishment of the ICC, and has been moving steadily since then. In 1997, towards the end of this process, the members of the Arab League pushed through language inventing a new war crime to ostensibly cover Israeli settlements. The purpose was clearly to prepare the grounds for exploiting the ICC for “lawfare” to target Israel.
Since then, this legal war has proceeded step by step, led by a powerful army of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), largely funded by European governments under the façade of human rights and international law. While the exact amounts and NGO allocation processes in the European Union under frameworks such as the EU Instrument Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) are top-secret and exempted from Freedom of Information laws, the annual total for anti-Israel campaigning related to this warfare is estimated at approximately 100 million euros.
After the ICC was established, the next conquest took place in September 2001, when, using European and Canadian money, more than 1500 highly politicized NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in partnership with radical Palestinian groups such as Al Haq, shaped the agenda of the infamous UN Durban Conference. The NGO Forum adopted a plan of action to promote “the complete international isolation of Israel’ through allegations of war crimes, genocide, human rights violations etc. The main vehicles include the ICC and courts in Western countries that included provisions for universal jurisdiction of war criminals.
The NGO network worked continuously to implement this strategy. The leaders include Palestinian groups such as Al Haq and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, as well as a network of Israel-based and Europe-funded NGOs such as B’tselem, Yesh Din, Adalah, and many more, and radical NGOs based in Western Europe. These NGOs have bombarded the ICC prosecutor, the media, diplomats and policy makers with press releases, glossy “reports”, and legal memoranda repeating allegations of Israeli war crimes and violations of international law. While the leadership of the Palestinian Authority built the formal foundation for using the ICC weapon against Israel, the NGO network provided the political support.
For example, as a leader in anti-Israel lawfare, Al Haq receives undisclosed sums from its main backers in the Netherlands government (via a virulently anti-Israel church group known as ICCO); from pro-Palestinian government funded frameworks in Germany; €110,000 annually from Norway, €600,000 from the Birzeit Rights Secretariat (Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden), and other sources.
With this war chest, Shawan Jabarin, the leader of Al Haq is able to market this ICC-based “war crimes” campaign around the world, and to journalists in particular. Jabarin, who is alleged to have ties to the Popular Front terror group (PFLP), provides advanced preparation for the Palestinian Authority’s assaults through the ICC. For example, In October 2013, Al-Haq, and the Gaza-based PCHR, which is also primarily funded by European governments, met the ICC prosecutor to present a legal opinion, again accusing Israel of “widespread and systematic commission of international crimes and violations of international law.” In the wake of the official Palestinian ICC move, Al Haq’s press statements on Israeli war crimes are quoted widely in mainstream media, where Jabarin is identified as a “human rights expert”.
The move to activate the ICC weapon against Israel at this time is closely tied to the upcoming UN Human Rights Council report on “the investigation” of the July 2014 Gaza war, headed by William Schabas, whose ties to Jabarin and Al Haq go back many years. Having failed after a similar report in 2009 by Judge Richard Goldstone was widely dismissed, in large part because it was based on twisted or unverifiable NGO allegations, including from Al Haq, a new round is underway. The Schabas version is due to be presented at the UN in Geneva on March 23, to be used by Jabarin and his allies in support of the ICC process targeting Israel. And unlike Goldstone, who had the honesty to retroactively denounce his own publication, Schabas shows no signs of such integrity.
For Israelis, the lawfare and demonization strategy, and trap set in the ICC many years ago, the Durban strategy and the central role of powerful NGOs such HRW, Amnesty, al Haq, and dozens more, and their alliance with the UN Human Rights frameworks, were largely ignored for many years.
Even now, following the Palestinian move to activate the ICC “war crimes” weapon, the official Israeli responses as well as media discussions continue to focus on the immediate and narrow issues of ICC procedure and international law. The wider factors that propel this form of warfare are still largely hidden, and the confrontation with Europe’s government funders is limited to political initiatives that miss the mark and do not go very far. Proposals to subject Israeli NGOs to political litmus tests are non-starters, and will not stop groups like Al Haq and Amnesty from lawfare attacks. However, as the exploitation of the ICC moves forward, the European funding will become more pronounced, and create greater friction. Beyond their role in supporting this form of warfare against Israel, European officials might also become aware of their own vulnerability to the abuse of international law frameworks.