‘Nothing to hide’: Israel prepares for first-ever ICC visit

 FILE PHOTO: Palestinians place a red carpet between the ruins of houses, that witnesses said were destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, before they display a film on the war in the east of Gaza City May 12, 2015. © Mohammed Salem
Israel has reportedly agreed to allow the first-ever visit of an ICC delegation which, at the request of Palestinians, is seeking to launch a probe into alleged war crimes based on the 2014 Gaza war. Israel, however, made it clear the court has no real “jurisdiction.”

Israel claimed it would allow a working group from the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the country stressing the court is not eligible for conducting a probe into the2014 Gaza war, an Israeli official said on Friday. The upcoming visit would be unprecedented, he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Hague-based ICC has been considering opening a probe into possible crimes committed by Israelis in the 2014 Gaza conflict for over a year since it was put forward by Palestinian authorities. Israel, however, says the court does not have the right to intervene.

The official stressed that the visit would be solely aimed at convincing the ICC that Israel’s judicial system works just fine and that “we have nothing to hide”, Haaretz newspaper reported. The visit which intends to show “how the Israeli judicial system works” is to take place “shortly”. He added the meeting would not mean that the court has "jurisdiction or authority" to conduct the inquiry.

“We would be happy to show the court at The Hague how serious, professional and independent the Israeli legal system is," the official said as cited by Haaretz.

“This is an additional opportunity to make clear that Israel believes there is no room for the intervention of the court at The Hague and that it has neither the authority nor the justification to handle the Palestinians' complaints.”

According to Haaretz, the ICC prosecutor submitted a formal request for the visit within the last week.
“Israel has agreed to engage with my office and we are exchanging information,” Fatou Bensouda said during a visit to the UN in Geneva on Thursday.

To open the proceedings, the ICC needs to establish that Israel is unable to conduct its own investigations. Although Israel has launched a series of probes, as many as 80 of them were shut down before any investigation began. Some 13 other cases were closed and did not include any penalties.

Palestine joined the ICC in April 2015 and after that ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has launched a preliminary inquiry to reveal whether crimes perpetrated by both sides are enough to start a full-scale investigation.

If the meeting with the ICC team does take place it would the first-of-its kind until now. Israel has opposed all cooperation with the court. The country openly criticizes the ICC by saying that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and that it should not have been admitted to the ICC membership. In January 2015 it publicly attacked the ICC for its de facto recognition of Palestine as a state.

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In 2014, Israel launched war on Gaza, known as ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ in response to rocket shelling of adjacent Israeli territories by Hamas militants. Over 2,100 Palestinians including 551 children died in the conflict. At the same time, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians were killed in the violence.

Israel denies committing war crimes in Gaza and has blamed Hamas for the civilian casualties, claiming the group had purposely stationed itself in densely populated residential areas, using locals as human shields.