Justice in Palestine? It’s getting closer. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has applied for arrest warrants for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday. Three senior Hamas leaders have also been named and are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Two days later, the leaders of Norway, Ireland, and Spain announced that their countries would recognise a Palestinian state. This is important as the USA and Western Europe are some of the last territories on earth to do so.

Both developments are big for the ongoing effort for justice in Palestine. 

The ICC’s decision was prompted in part by the increasingly horrific conditions in Rafah. We told you last week about the city right at the bottom of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, where millions of civilians fled after attacks by Israel’s army first began in the north in October last year. This was in retaliation to attacks by Hamas on southern Israel shortly before. 

These civilians have effectively been herded into Rafah and trapped: To the north is destruction, and to the south, Egypt’s President has refused to open the border, saying it would effectively help Israel annihilate the Palestinians as a people. It’s also true that an influx of millions of refugees overnight would be a humanitarian and economic catastrophe for Egypt. 

Now, Israel’s army has begun a bombing campaign in Rafah and has blocked humanitarian aid, triggering a potential humanitarian catastrophe. 

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has accused Netanyahu and Gallant of committing war crimes in Gaza, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war, murder, extermination, and intentional attacks on civilians. On the other side, Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh are accused of crimes such as extermination, murder, hostage-taking, rape, and torture.

Reaction has been intense, especially from Netanyahu and his ally, US President Joe Biden. But, as Khan pointed out, it’s important that all world leaders be held equally accountable… this after some senior Western leaders apparently privately told Khan that the ICC is only intended for “Africa and thugs like Putin.” 😳 However, this IS indeed the first time that the ICC prosecutor has gone after a Western leader. 

What comes next?

The ICC’s pre-trial judges will now assess the evidence to decide if the arrest warrants should be upheld. Although the court has no direct way to enforce these warrants, member states of the ICC (124 countries) must arrest the named individuals if they enter their territory. It’s unlikely. But it’s a line in the sand.