The Palestinians should tread carefully

As expected, the Palestinian Authority expressed satisfaction with the International Criminal Court’s decision on February 5 to consider an investigation of allegations concerning war crimes by Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, praised its ruling as a victory for justice. Israel, of course, was displeased. “We will fight this perversion of justice with all our might,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In its rush to praise the court’s verdict, the Palestinians conveniently overlooked an important point. If investigators are fair and impartial, they will inevitably reach the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority has engaged in police state conduct in relating to its citizens and that Hamas has committed war crimes.

With this in mind, the Palestinian Authority would be advised to be careful what it wishes for. A thorough investigation almost certainly will not add luster to either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, both of which have little regard for the rule of law and human rights.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has reason to believe that war crimes were committed by the Israeli armed forces during the 2014 war in Gaza and the violent Palestinian protests along Israel’s border in 2018.

Bensouda, whose term of office ends in June, has yet to decide whether she will actually proceed with an investigation in the weeks or months ahead, or whether she will leave that weighty task to her successor. But since she appears to think that both Israel and Hamas are guilty of war crimes, a formal investigation likely will be launched sooner rather than later.

The Israeli government fears the worst, but Bensouda’s case against Israel is problematic and hangs by a thread. She contends that Israel used disproportionate force against Hamas in 2014 and again in 2018. But her argument is debatable, if not altogether specious.

In the face of unrelenting rocket and mortar barrages launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad against Israeli civilians in nearby towns and villages, Israel had no alternative but to respond forcefully. In the Middle East, weakness and lack of resolve are always exploited by a determined enemy.

And as the International Criminal Court surely must know, the Palestinian protests along the international border were never peaceful in nature. On the orders of Hamas, Palestinian civilians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails and tried to storm the internationally-recognized border.

Israel was left with no alternative but to defend itself against a possible incursion by hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians proclaiming their right to return to their ancestral homeland. Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, encouraged this political theatre.

If a country like Israel is shorn of the right to defend itself, how else can it protect its sovereignty, much less its citizens? The International Criminal Court must take these factors into account before it issues a final report.

As Human Rights Watch correctly points out, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas routinely and arbitrarily arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is certainly a problem that must be addressed and resolved, but the manner in which the Palestinian Authority and Hamas respond to internal criticism is less than exemplary.

Shawan Jabarin, the executive director of the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee, put it best, “The fact that Israel systematically violates Palestinians’ most basic rights is no reason to remain silent in the face of the systematic repression of dissent and the torture Palestinian security forces are perpetrating.”

Jabarin’s sober assessment is bang on. The Palestinian Authority should prepare itself for a damning report from the International Criminal Court should it mount an exhaustive investigation of the appalling human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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