The people of Palestine have had enough: enough of Israeli occupation, enough of the Palestinian Authority’s complicity, and enough of the international community’s inaction.
Since the blatant breach of the principle of self-determination in 1948, which saw the establishment of the ‘state of Israel’ on colonized Palestinian land, Palestinians have been subjected to relentless and progressive genocide and aggression: forced relocation, illegal Israeli settlements, theft of natural resources such as water and gas fields, collective punishment in the form of a suffocating siege of Gaza, and three brutal military offensives within six years that killed thousands of Palestinians, injured tens of thousands more, and destroyed twenties of thousands homes.
And that was just during declared military offensives – the killing and injuring of Palestinians by Israeli authorities and citizens is a daily occurrence.
The United Nations reports that between 01 January and 31 October 2016, Israeli security forces killed at least 94 Palestinians and injured more than 3,200: an average of 9 casualties per day.
All in full view of the United Nations.
All reported in the international media.
All known to the world public.
And all with complete impunity.
The Palestinian Authority has done little. Despite ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in December 2014, and making a retroactive declaration until June 2014 for the Court to have jurisdiction over the Israeli military aggression in Gaza during the summer of 2014, it has failed to make a state complaint to the ICC.
And although the Prosecutor subsequently opened a ‘preliminary examination’ on Palestine, this stalled.
Due to the lack of political will on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which has not filed an ICC complaint and does not support the procedure, Palestinians are taking matters into their own hands.
Last Wednesday, 438 individuals and 45 civil society organisations lodged a complaint with the ICC demanding the Prosecutor of the ICC move the preliminary examination into a full investigation.
“All the prosecutor of the ICC needs to open a full investigation is that there is a reasonable basis for believing that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed,” insisted one of the complainants in the legal action, Basman AlAshi, Chief Executive of Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital.
“The destruction of Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, a protected place under the Geneva Convention, provides that basis. So do the attacks on Al Aqsa, Durrah and Beit Hanoun Hospitals,” he said.
The lawyer submitting the complaint to the ICC, Maître Gilles Devers, agrees.
“It is two years since Palestine has been under preliminary examination. In Gaza, we think two years is too long,” he said before heading to the court.
It is a significant chunk of the lifetime of the 700 Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel every year. Dr Mariam Abu Daqqa, President of a Gaza-based women prisoners’ support organization, laments that these children, along with women detainees, are not accorded the most minimum standards demanded by international instruments.
Israeli authorities routinely violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, transferring nearly 60 percent of these Palestinian child detainees from occupied territory to prisons inside Israel, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for their families to visit them.
They are also frequently subjected to torture. A Defence for Children International – Palestine report in 2016 recorded that many children were threatened with physical violence, long-term imprisonment, solitary confinement, and sexual assault during interrogation by Israeli authorities.
“Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions from some of these children,” states the Report, noting that more than 90 percent of children held in solitary confinement provided a confession.
Mahmoud Afana, one of the 40 Gazan lawyers working on the ICC complaint, notes that these breaches of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Riyadh Guidelines, the Havana Rules and the Bangkok Rules are but a few of the Palestinian rights being breached daily.
Afana describes the ten-year siege of Gaza as collective punishment which constitutes “… a genocidal humanitarian crisis happening in full view of the world.”
Complainants include a wide range of unions whose members have suffered from the crippling siege: teachers who cannot get books or scientific equipment for their students; tradespeople who cannot get raw materials or export what they would produce if they could; farmers deprived of fertilisers and the possibility to export their produce; fishermen who cannot go further than 3 miles from the now heavily-polluted shore; doctors who cannot study abroad let alone obtain the medicines and equipment essential to treat their dying patients; committees striving to rebuild destroyed mosques while construction materials are prevented from entering; and hundreds of ordinary people whose lives have been shattered by the deaths and injuries to loved ones in 2014, or dreams of a future destroyed by their inability to travel for study or life-saving treatment.
Rana Shubeir told TeleSur that they are sick of living a life of fear: fear of being denied travel for study or medical treatment, fear of another aggression, fear of never finding a job in “this black hole of deprivation and suffering.”
“We only want to enjoy the basic human rights which are guaranteed under international and humanitarian law. We want to live knowing that the future of our children will be as bright as their innocent smiles. The only way this can be achieved is through the application of justice – and that is all we ask from the ICC – apply the rules, and open a full investigation into Palestine,” she said.
French lawyer Gilles Devers emphasised that the submission of Wednesday’s complaint to the ICC is just the beginning of what is expected to be a long struggle.
“We call for the strengthening of this legal action; it must be intensified. Our strength is the determination of the Palestinian people to defend their rights.”
The group also hopes to persuade the ICC to open a full investigation “as a matter of urgency” into the escalating situation in East Jerusalem, he said.
Israeli authorities have imposed severe restrictions on and around Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy site in Islam, and violently attacked Palestinians protesting their right to pray there unhampered.
The closure of the mosque on Friday 14 July, and its reopening days later with enhanced repressive security measures, has enraged both Palestinians and international Muslims alike.
Palestinians have refused to pray there while the measures, such as metal detectors and restricted access, remain in place, while Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, The Saudi Council of Ministers, and the Doha-based International Union of Muslim scholars also denounced the Israeli measures.
"The recurrent Israeli aggressions…are part of an Israeli scheme to target the sacred sites after the usurpation of the land, in its attempt to continue changing the geographic and demographic status quo in Jerusalem," the Lebanese President’s statement read.
Tensions erupted on July 21, and three Palestinians and three Israelis were killed, while many hundreds of Palestinians were injured in the violent and disproportionate Israeli response to Palestinian resistance to the latest attacks on their dignity and self-determination.
Palestinian civil society’s plea to the ICC is perhaps one of a few opportunities to defuse the imminent explosion.
As Gilles Devers concluded: “Justice must be the response to violence.”
The alternative is too bloody to contemplate.
The Rome Statute established four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crime of aggression.
The action, prepared by 40 Palestinians lawyers in Gaza and filed with the ICC by Mr Devers, concerns three crimes:
– the blockade of Gaza
– the Israeli aggression in the summer of 2014
– the Israeli settlement of Palestine.
Julie Webb-Pullman is a New Zealander who has been writing from Gaza since 2011. Her work has appeared in Gaza SCOOP, Palestine Chronicle, Global Research, Havana Times, Prensa Latina, Dissident Voice, Tortilla Con Sal, Al Jazeera and Green Left Weekly. Since 2014, she has been focusing on human rights, international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity.