Boris Johnson under fire for condemning ICC war crime probe in West Bank and Gaza

Twelve NGOs have labelled PM’s criticism of ICC probe into crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians as ‘political interference’

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Friday 16 April 2021 14:20 BST
Israel Palestinians ICC
Israel Palestinians ICC (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A dozen British charities have condemned Boris Johnson for rejecting an International Criminal Court probe into alleged war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian Territories as “political interference.”

The charities have warned that Mr Johnson’s criticism of the investigation sets a dangerous precedent, and the Palestinian mission in London said it undermines British credibilty globally.

Mr Johnson said in a recent letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) network that the ICC investigation “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s”.

“We do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance given that Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state,” he added.

The letter, which was tweeted out by the CFI, was welcomed by the CFI’s chairman Stephen Crabb MP and CFI’s president Lord Polak. 

But 12 British charities including Christian Aid, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and Medical Aid for Palestinians slammed the statement as “political interference”, adding that the UK is setting a “wholly dangerous precedent.” 

Separately the Palestinian mission in the UK called the letter “a contradiction of international law” and said it sets back efforts “to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine.” 

“It marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage,” they said in a statement. 

Labour MP Julie Elliot sent a letter to Downing Street saying Mr Johnson’s letter “flies in the face of judicial independence and international law”.

In March the ICC opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the OPT by both Israelis and Palestinians, including the Israeli army and Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she would examine the 2014 Gaza war, the 2018 Gaza border protests, and Israeli settlements in occupied territory.

Despite the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians could be in the dock, the Palestinian leadership, who initially requested that the ICC investigate, have warmly welcomed the move. International and local rights groups believe it is the first step towards getting justice for victims.

Israel has vehemently rejected the probe and vowed to fight back. 

Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, angrily declared at the time that it was a “perversion of justice” and “pure antisemitism”.

Danny Danon, Israel’s former representative to the UN, even said Bensouda should herself be up in court.

Israel’s closest allies have also lashed out. 

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted that the US “firmly opposes” the investigation and said the US would continue to oppose “actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Mr Johnson echoed that sentiment in his 9 April letter. 

The joint statement by British charities rejecting the prime minister’s letter, said: “This investigation is bringing victims, survivors and their families one step closer to justice – but political interference by  states, such as the UK, risks pushing that out of reach.” 

The Palestinians said, “It is clear that the UK now believes Israel is above the law.”

Israel’s Attorney-General published an opinion in December 2019 arguing the ICC has no jurisdiction as only sovereign states can refer the situation to the ICC and Israel has a valid claim over Palestinian Territories.

However, Palestine, although not universally recognised as a sovereign state, became a recognised member of the ICC in January 2015, allowing them to formally request the court investigate crimes. The international community widely discredits Israel’s claim over Palestinian lands.

Tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis have soared over the last few days. Overnight on Thursday, the Israeli military said a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the south of the country. There were no reports of damage or casualties. 

In response, Israeli aircraft early Friday hit three facilities belonging to Hamas, the militant group ruling Gaza. 

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