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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters at his office in Jerusalem. (Photo: Reuters)

Netanyahu Urges US Lawmakers to Defend Israel Against ICC "War Crimes" Prosecution

As calls grow for additional investigation and possible prosecution, nation's prime minister looks to allies in US Congress for support

Jon Queally

According to U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY), the Israeli government hopes that he and his colleagues in Washington, DC will do everything in their power to prevent the International Criminal Court from pushing forward with possible war crimes charges against his nation over its recent attack on the Gaza Strip which resulted in the killing over nearly 1,900 Palestinians, including a large proportion of civilians and hundreds of children.

Speaking to the New York Post from Israel, where he was travelling at the invitation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or AIPAC), Rep. Israel described the meeting between U.S. lawmakers in the delegation, AIPAC officials, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The prime minister asked us to work together to ensure that this strategy of going to the ICC does not succeed,” the congressman told the Post. “[Netanyahu] wants the US to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, number one, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel, they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard.”

During a meeting at The Hague on Tuesday of this week, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki told prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that "clear evidence" of war crimes by Israel against the people of Gaza exists.

"Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity," Malki said. "There is no difficulty for us to show or build the case. Evidence is there for people to see and collect. Israel is in clear violation of international law."

Prior to his trip, Rep. Israel released a statement announcing, "I have always been one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S. Congress, and I will always stand up for its needs.” Recently, during the height of the conflict the congressman was among lawmakers who signed a letter to the United Nations calling on it to "condemn Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, which is a direct violation of international law." That the Hamas government "uses human shields" in Gaza is a familiar Israeli government talking point, but no independent evidence exists to support the accusation and the claim is widely dismissed as straight propaganda by agencies and experts on the ground in Gaza.

Despite Congressman Israel's characterization of the conflict in Gaza—and the consistent defense by Netanyahu and other Israeli officials that its military's behavior in the Strip was and is justified—global indignation and condemnation has resulted from the fact that while three civilians and just over 60 soldiers were killed on the Israeli side during the fighting, official estimates on the Palestinian side put the death toll at 1,865 people killed, including 429 children under the age of 18; 79 people over the age of 60; and 243 women.

The Israeli government continues to repeat that it killed "900+ terrorists" during what it called Operation Protective Edge, but it offers no convincing argument on how it distinguishes an adult Palestinian male sleeping in his bed, seeking shelter, or fleeing hostilities from someone acting in a military or offensive capacity.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International on Thursday announced that is has seen mounting and "alarming" evidence that the IDF launched what it called "apparently deliberate attacks" against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza during Israel's incursion.

“Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes," aid Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. "They only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.”

Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said it has now documented cases in which Israel fired on civilians who were fleeing the violence and stated that "deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes."

“The horrors of war are bad enough for civilians even when all sides abide by the law,” said  Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “But it’s abhorrent that Israeli forces are making matters even worse by so blatantly violating the laws of war designed to spare civilians.”

On Wednesday evening, as he addressed an informal meeting of the United Nation's General Assembly, the head of the UN Ban Ki-Moon said the utter destruction of Gaza and the humanitarian crisis that continues there has both "shocked and shamed" the global community.

Speaking from Gaza, Pierre Krähenbühl, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) office there, said that 90 of the agency’s premises were hit during the conflict. He said that UNRWA has asked for investigations to be carried out regarding the attacks on agency-run schools that had been sheltering displaced Gazans.

“Perhaps nothing symbolized more the horror that was unleashed on the people of Gaza," said Ban, "than the repeated shelling of United Nations facilities harbouring civilians who had been explicitly told to seek a safe haven there. These attacks were outrageous, unacceptable and unjustifiable.”


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