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Top IDF lawyer tells The Hague to back off, says Israel can probe own alleged war crimes

Top IDF lawyer tells The Hague to back off, says Israel can probe own alleged war crimes
The Israeli military wants the International Criminal Court to butt out of its affairs, its top military prosecutor has declared in response to efforts to hold it to account for its use of live fire against Palestinian protesters.

Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC,” Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, Israel’s military advocate, declared at an international conference on warfare laws in Herzliya. “The position of Israel is that the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction to discuss the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The ICC is weighing investigating Israel over its use of live ammunition against Palestinian protesters demonstrating at the Gaza border. Since March 2018, IDF soldiers have killed at least 251 people participating in the Great March of Return, a movement calling for Palestinians expelled from their land during the establishment of Israel to be allowed to return, and injured at least 26,797 more, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

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Earlier this year, a United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission on the protests submitted to the ICC a list of Israeli officials it suspects of serious crimes, including IDF snipers, their commanders, and the military legal advisers who outlined their rules of engagement.

Afek’s objections to the ICC’s involvement center on the body’s charter, which permits it to investigate crimes only when there is no reasonable assumption that the country in which they have been committed will prosecute them adequately. Israel, he claims, will take care of its own business.

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But as of March, only 11 of the protesters’ deaths were being investigated as possible criminal acts. Israel has insisted that even the journalists and medics killed by snipers – a war crime under any jurisdiction – were actually working for Hamas and therefore fair game. 

Israel’s judicial system has refused to pursue investigations of alleged war crimes committed by the IDF against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza before, and the ICC has long sought to prosecute Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. Before the Great March of Return began last year, the court was looking into whether Israel had committed war crimes during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, the seven-week bombardment of Gaza that killed 2,000 Palestinians and injured over 10,000, deliberately targeting civilians and landmark buildings according to Amnesty International. Settlement-building and the eviction of Palestinians from West Bank and East Jerusalem were also scrutinized.

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