It’s Time to Put Israel on Trial

The court of public opinion isn’t enough. Israel’s leaders should face charges in The Hague.

Joel Bleifuss June 4, 2018

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for allowing Israelis to enjoy Passover observances “peacefully.” (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In Decem­ber 1948, the New York Times pub­lished a let­ter by 27 Amer­i­can Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­als, includ­ing Albert Ein­stein and Han­nah Arendt, warn­ing of the dan­gers to Israel” posed by the far-right Free­dom Par­ty (Herut). The let­ter described how the party’s mili­tia had killed most of the inhab­i­tants — 240 men, women and chil­dren” of the Arab vil­lage of Deir Yassin, except for a few that were kept alive to parade as cap­tives through the streets of Jerusalem.” The sig­na­to­ries denounced Herut leader Men­achem Begin and urged all con­cerned not to sup­port this lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of fascism.”

B’Tselem, a human rights group, said, “Israel … has made Gaza a huge prison, yet forbids the prisoners even to protest against this, on pain of death.”

In 1973, Herut merged with oth­er par­ties to form Likud, the par­ty now chaired by cur­rent Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who gov­erns in coali­tion with oth­er right-wing par­ties, has proven every bit as vio­lent as the Herut thugs of yesteryear.

This year, from March 30 to May 15, tens of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans demon­strat­ed at the barbed wire fence that sur­rounds Gaza to protest the Israeli block­ade, the mov­ing of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and their con­fine­ment to the crowd­ed and immis­er­at­ed Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) respond­ed by mas­sacring a total of 112 demon­stra­tors (includ­ing 13 chil­dren). On March 31, after snipers killed 15 pro­test­ers, the IDF bragged in a tweet: Every­thing was accu­rate and mea­sured, and we know where every bul­let land­ed.” Defense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man said the IDF sol­diers deserve a medal.” Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for allow­ing Israelis to enjoy Passover obser­vances peace­ful­ly.”

Not every­one in Israel was at peace. B’Tselem, a human rights group, said, Israel … has made Gaza a huge prison, yet for­bids the pris­on­ers even to protest against this, on pain of death.”

Not­ing that lethal force is banned by inter­na­tion­al law except to meet an immi­nent threat to life,” Human Rights Watch called for a for­mal inves­ti­ga­tion by the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court (ICC), which was cre­at­ed by the Unit­ed Nations in 2002 (but runs inde­pen­dent­ly from it).

Since 2015, the ICC’s chief pros­e­cu­tor, Fatou Ben­sou­da, has been con­duct­ing a pre­lim­i­nary exam­i­na­tion” of the 2014 Gaza War, which killed 2,251 Pales­tini­ans (includ­ing 1,462 civil­ians) and 73 Israelis (includ­ing 6 civil­ians). On April 8, she warned that any new alleged crime com­mit­ted in the con­text of the sit­u­a­tion in Pales­tine may be sub­ject­ed to my office’s scrutiny.”

On May 18, the U.N. Human Rights Coun­cil vot­ed to set up a com­mis­sion of inquiry to exam­ine Israel’s use of force, 29 to 2 (the Unit­ed States and Aus­tralia) with 14 absten­tions (includ­ing Britain, Ger­many and Japan). Because the Unit­ed States has veto pow­er on the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, any rec­om­men­da­tion is unlike­ly to move forward.

As the Likud­niks see it, the only thing Israel has done wrong in Gaza is lose the pub­lic rela­tions war. Speak­ing at a brief­ing for the Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tions of North Amer­i­ca, IDF spokesper­son Lt. Col. Jonathan Con­ri­cus said, The win­ning pic­ture’ over­whelm­ing­ly, by a knock­out, unfor­tu­nate­ly, have been the graph­ics from the Pales­tin­ian side. The amount of casu­al­ties has done us a tremen­dous dis­ser­vice, unfor­tu­nate­ly, and it has been very dif­fi­cult to tell our story.”

That wouldn’t sur­prise Albert Ein­stein, Han­nah Arendt, Sey­mour Mel­man and the oth­ers who signed that let­ter to the New York Times 70 years ago. The authors were prophet­ic: It is in its actions that the ter­ror­ist par­ty betrays its real char­ac­ter; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expect­ed to do in the future.”

That future is now.

It’s time for ICC Chief Pros­e­cu­tor Ben­sou­da to move the pro­ceed­ings from the court of pub­lic opin­ion, where Israel’s lead­ers are cur­rent­ly being tried, to a more prop­er venue: The Hague.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH