Though I will be giving away my age, I remember well the wonderful satiric songs of Tom Lehrer, one of which was called, Who’s Next? (video). The news today brings word that Sudan’s autocratic ruler Omar Hassan al-Bashir, architect of the Darfur genocide, became the first sitting leader to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. While this is good news in its own right, it raises the question: who’s next? One of the disturbing possibilities is for charges to be brought against senior Israeli military officers and political leaders implicated in possible war crimes during the last Gaza war.
The Palestinian Authority has asked the ICC to accept a complaint against Israel. While the latter has not accepted ICC jurisdiction, the court may still hear a case as long as the complainant falls within its jurisdiction. The problem for the PA is that it is not yet a formal government. So the ICC must decide whether the PA falls within the generally accepted notion of a government for purposes of the Court.
During the war, nine Israeli human rights groups also raised the possibility that Israel had violated the laws of war and called for investigation. In all the years I’ve followed this conflict, I don’t remember hearing such organizational calls en masse for Israel to be investigated. Walls are being breached right and left.
Today, a British minister publicly stated that the war crimes charges should be investigated:
[Secretary of state for international development Douglas] Alexander…does not rule out various European initiatives to try Israeli politicians and army officers for alleged war crimes in Gaza: There have been serious allegations made against these people, he said, “and it would be right to investigate these allegations.”
He is the first such senior western government official to make such a statement. This is the type of incremental acceptance of the notion that will eventually lead to the end of Israeli impunity on the international stage.
To be clear, it is entirely possible that war crimes have been committed against Israel. If I were that country I would be preparing such cases. The irony will be that Israel could not bring a complaint to the ICC unless it accepted its jurisdiction. Which means we are unlikely to see Israel raise the issue of war crimes against Palestinian militant groups. In order to forestall it’s own possible punishment, Israel is denying its own citizens recourse to international justice.