Palestinians appeal for help as bloodshed continues in Gaza Strip

The International Criminal Court said it is monitoring the violence between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters, as it's being called on to take Israel to task.

al-monitor A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City, Gaza, April 6, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

Apr 27, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Three more Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured when violence broke out again today in the Gaza Strip, even as numerous groups have been calling for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they say are Israeli war crimes. However, the court's chief prosecutor believes Hamas might have committed its own war crimes during the confrontations by using civilians as shields.

The ICC is following with "grave concern" the violence during the Palestinians' Great Return March along the Gaza border. In protests that began March 30, demonstrators are demanding implementation of UN Resolution No. 194 of 1948 on Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes in Israeli-occupied areas. Since the demonstrations started, around 40 protesters have been killed and thousands have been wounded, as of April 27.

Israel refers to the protests as riots and said demonstrators are throwing firebombs at soldiers. It says protesters have made numerous attempts to breach its border. Hamas' political bureau, on the other hand, says the protesters were unarmed and peaceful. Hamas is one of several groups calling for Israel to be brought to trial.

The Arab League Council called April 3 for the UN Security Council and the General Assembly to form an international commission to look into the shootings.

Zaher Birawi, the head of the International Coordination Committee for the Great Return March and the head of the London-based International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, told Al-Monitor the former plans to sue Israel and has contacted legal experts from Arab and other countries for advice.

Birawi pointed out that the Great Return March committee also is prepared to seek the cooperation of countries whose courts have international jurisdiction and are willing to indict criminals who might set foot in their territories. The committee plans to gather testimonials and get in touch with victims’ families to press charges against Israel in those countries.

He said, “Our first option is to resort to the ICC … either directly or by prodding the Palestinian Authority [PA] into action." He added, “So far, there are no signs indicating that the PA is interested in referring the dossier to the ICC … as [the PA] doesn't appear to want the protests to make a breakthrough."

Ammar Hijazi, the deputy assistant minister of the Multilateral Affairs Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied claims that the PA isn't keen on referring the case to the prosecutor. He said Palestine’s accession to the ICC in 2014 gave the international court the right to follow up on events in Palestinian territories, stressing that lengthy preliminary examinations come before the launch of an official investigation, which also normally takes time — followed by a trial and possible indictment.

The ICC has been conducting a "preliminary examination" since 2015 into possible war crimes dating from a 2014 conflict.

Hijazi stressed that the PA will go to court if there is no progress in moving on from the 2015 preliminary examination to an actual investigation of war crimes. He added that in midyear, the PA will formally ask the court to decide if the 2014 complaint merits a full investigation, should the public prosecutor fail to initiate one.

In reference to work to complete the preliminary study of the complaint, Hijazi added that, unlike before, the PA is now publishing the correspondences that have been sent to the public prosecutor.

“We provide the court with an update about the Israeli violations, either through communiques … or through the detailed monthly reports on the developments in Palestine. We also submit urgent and specific messages,” Hijazi said. He noted the PA has submitted two communiques, "one with regard to the 2014 war, and the second with regard to the Israeli colonial system, which includes the settlements and arrests."

He added, “We sent an urgent message concerning the Israeli violations against the Grand March of Return protesters, addressing the crimes committed against them. We called upon the prosecutor to take the necessary measures and fulfill her role in alleviating and limiting such violations within her jurisdiction.”

Samer Mousa, the executive director of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights (ICSP), told Al-Monitor the ICSP faces challenges in raising legal and general awareness among victims and their families about the need to testify and document violations accurately. This is especially true since the ICSP is an unofficial, nonprofit committee and it must commit to the impartial documentation and registration of violations as per international standards.

Finances could be an obstacle, he said, as monitoring, documenting, analyzing information, preparing databases and drafting reports cost a lot of money. Mousa said ICSP should expedite the ICC preliminary study, which may take months or even years, by quickly gathering and submitting testimonials and memos.

The results of such efforts are worth it, according to Hamas-affiliated political analyst Ibrahim al-Madhoun.

"Any step that sheds light on the Israeli crimes and brings the Palestinian cause under the spotlight through international and human rights organizations could benefit the Palestinian people," he told Al-Monitor.

Israel feels protected by US influence and gains strength when the world ignores the Palestinian plight, so international attention could corroborate the Palestinian narrative and mobilize international opinion against Israel, he added.

Along those lines, Birawi said international efforts are picking up to break Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip. The "Freedom Flotilla V" will set sail from northern Europe on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba ("Catastrophe"), and will make stops at nine European ports in a lobbying effort. The flotilla will stop at one Arab port, which has yet to be determined.

Birawi expects the fleet to arrive in Gaza at the beginning of July. He said flotilla participants will take part in the Great March of Return protests if the marches are still taking place or they will join celebrations of the march's anticipated achievements.

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