What the ICC arrest warrants mean for Israel and Hamas

Benjamin Netanyahu responded with fury to the news that he might face an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It was "a moral outrage of historic proportions", he said. Israel was "waging a just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation that perpetrated the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust."

In a bitter personal attack, Mr Netanyahu said Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was one of the "great antisemites in modern times."

Mr Khan, he said, was like judges in Nazi Germany who denied Jews basic rights and enabled the Holocaust. His decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister and defence minister was "callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging around the world.’

Mr Netanyahu spoke English on the video that was released by his office. He does that when he wants his message to reach the foreign audience that matters most to him, in the US.

Reacting to the news, Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant on Tuesday described the arrest warrants against him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "disgraceful" attempt to interfere in the war.

"The attempt of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, to reverse the creation will not succeed - the parallel of the prosecutor between the terrorist organization Hamas and the State of Israel is despicable and disgusting." he said in a post on X.

Before adding: "The State of Israel is not a party to the Court and does not recognize its authority."

The outrage expressed by the prime minister, and echoed by Israel’s political leadership, was generated by pages of carefully chosen legal language in a statement issued by Mr Khan, the ICC chief prosecutor who is a British King’s Counsel.

Word by word, line by line, they add up to a devastating series of allegations against the three most prominent leaders of Hamas as well as Israel’s prime minister and defence minister.

A determination to apply international law and the laws of armed conflict to all parties, no matter who they are, lies at the heart of Mr Khan’s statement in which he lays out his justification for requesting arrest warrants.

"No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader - no one - can act with impunity." The law, he says, cannot be applied selectively. If that happens, "we will be creating conditions for its collapse".

It is the decision to hold both sides’ conduct up to the template of international law that is causing so much anger, and not just in Israel.

US President Joe Biden said it was "outrageous" to apply for arrest warrants. There was "no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas".

Hamas demanded the withdrawal of the allegations against its leaders, claiming that the ICC’s prosecutor was "equating the victim with the executioner". It said the request to issue arrest warrants for the Israeli leadership came seven months too late, after "the Israeli occupation committed thousands of crimes".

Mr Khan does not make direct comparisons between the two sides, except to lay out his claim that they have both committed a series of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He also emphasises that this latest war comes in the context of "an international armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hamas".

The court treats Palestine as a state as it has observer status at the United Nations, which meant it was able to sign up to the Rome Statute which created the ICC.

Mr Netanyahu has declared that Palestinians will never have independence on his watch.

Instead of seeing disgraceful and false parallels between, as Israel’s President Isaac Herzog put it, "these atrocious terrorists and a democratically elected government of Israel", human rights groups have applauded the way that the ICC prosecutor is seeking to apply the law to both sides.

B'Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organisation, said the warrants marked "Israel’s rapid decline into a moral abyss".

"The international community is signalling to Israel that it can no longer maintain its policy of violence, killing and destruction without accountability," it added.

Human rights campaigners have complained for many years that powerful Western countries, led by the US, turn a blind eye to Israeli violations of international law, even as they condemn and sanction other states who are not in their camp.

The actions being taken by Mr Khan and his team are, they believe, long overdue.

Mr Khan says that the three main leaders of Hamas committed war crimes that include extermination, murder, hostage-taking, rape and torture.

The men named are Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Qassam Brigades, its military wing, and Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau.

As part of their investigation, Karim Khan and his team interviewed victims and survivors of the 7 October attacks.

He said Hamas had assaulted fundamental human values: "the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness".

Israel, Mr Khan said, does have the right to defend itself. But "unconscionable crimes" did not "absolve Israel of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law".

The failure to do that, he said, justified issuing warrants for the arrest of Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for crimes including starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, murder, extermination, and intentional attacks on civilians.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.