Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 3, 2021

What We’re Reading

International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court opens Israel-Palestine war crimes probe,

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Wednesday announced her intention to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories since 2014.…Bensouda said the priorities of the investigation will be determined in the coming weeks, taking into consideration coronavirus-related operational challenges, the limited resources of her office and the current heavy workload.”

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Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, respecting an investigation of the Situation in Palestine,

“Today, I confirm the initiation by the Office of the Prosecutor (”Office”) of the International Criminal Court (”ICC” or the ”Court”) of an investigation respecting the Situation in Palestine. The investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office. How the Office will set priorities concerning the investigation will be determined in due time, in light of the operational challenges we confront from the pandemic, the limited resources we have available to us, and our current heavy workload….Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour….The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my Office that lasted close to five years….To both Palestinian and Israeli victims and affected communities, we urge patience.”

Palestine welcomes decision by ICC Prosecutor to proceed with investigation,

“The State of Palestine welcomes the announcement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on proceeding with the investigation into the Situation in the State of Palestine, said a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates. “This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve,” it said.”

Justice for Palestine: Historic day for Palestinian victims of Israeli crimes, say rights groups,

“Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Right and Al Dameer Association for Supporting Prisoners and Human Rights (the Coalition) acknowledged and welcomed the announcement today by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the opening of a full criminal investigation into the Situation in Palestine. “This is a historic day in the decades-long Palestinian campaign for international justice and accountability for Israel’s apparent atrocity crimes in the Palestinian territory,” said a statement by the Palestinian human rights organizations.” See also Justice for Palestine: Historic Day for Palestinian Victims of Israeli Crimes” (Al Haq, Al Mezan, and Al Dameer)

Adalah welcomes opening of ICC investigation into suspected war crimes, ‘situation in Palestine',

“[Adalah] said in a statement that this decision “confirms what Adalah has maintained for years: there is serious and grave suspicion that Israel is committing war crimes against the Palestinian people.” It said that in addition to continued construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military acts in violation of the norms of international law and systematically violates the laws of war – especially when it indiscriminately harms civilians.”

Netanyahu: ICC war crimes probe is 'pure antisemitism',

“”The biased International Criminal Court in The Hague reached a decision that is pure antisemitism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday following the ICC’s announcement that it is investigating alleged war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. “It decided that our brave and moral soldiers that fight against the cruel terrorists are the terrorists,” he continued. “It decided that when we build a house in our eternal capital, Jerusalem, it is a war crime.” President Reuven Rivlin called the decision a “scandalous” decision and added that Israel is “proud of its soldiers, our sons and daughters… who keep watch over their land.” Rivlin said, “We will all be on guard to ensure they will not be harmed due to this decision.”” See alsoNetanyahu Blasts ICC War Crimes Probe as ‘the Essence of Antisemitism‘” (Haaretz)

Hamas Defends 'Legitimate' Actions as Palestinians Welcome News of ICC War Crimes Probe,

“Hamas defended its own actions. “We welcome the ICC decision to investigate Israeli occupation war crimes against our people,” Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Reuters. “It is a step forward on the path of achieving justice.” “Our resistance is legitimate, and it comes to defend our people. All international laws approve legitimate resistance,” said Qassem.”

Gantz says Israel moving to protect citizens from ICC,

“Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz alarmed government officials on Tuesday when he told Reuters Israel estimates that hundreds of its citizens might be subject – in the near future – to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court….Asked by Reuters how many Israelis might expect to be subject to arrest should the probe lead to criminal investigations, Gantz said: “I guess several hundred, but we will take care of everybody.””

Israel to Brief Hundreds of Defense Officials, Fearing They May Be Arrested After ICC Ruling,

“Hundreds of senior Israeli security officials, past and present, are expected to be called in for briefings following a decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague that allows investigations of alleged war crimes by Israel to proceed, fearing they may be arrested abroad….Senior security officials said a number of ICC member states have agreed to give advance warning to Israel of any intent to arrest Israelis on their arrival in those countries or if a request for an arrest warrant is issued against them. At the same time, Israel might ask those on the list to refrain entirely from travelling abroad, to avoid arrest or trial….If an investigation is indeed launched, the ICC is expected to focus on high-ranking Israeli officials – cabinet ministers, senior army commanders and senior officials at the security agencies – and not on lower-ranking officers.”

Occupation, Annexation, Settlements, Human Rights

Palestinians to lose only airport in Jerusalem to Israeli settlements,

“Israel seized the airport after it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, and it annexed it in 1981 based on the so-called Jerusalem Law. Israeli airlines used it for commercial and domestic flights to and from Jerusalem until they closed it in 2000…Khalil Tufakji, head of the map department at Jerusalem’s Arab Studies Society, told Al-Monitor, “The largest Israeli settlement project that has been underway for several years now in Jerusalem seeks to seize and confiscate 1,300 dunams [321 acres] of the Jerusalem International Airport and the lands surrounding it. It aims at implementing Israel’s Greater Jerusalem project to expand the existing Israeli settlements and expel Palestinians to increase the number of Jews and settlers in the city of Jerusalem.””

Jewish extremists stone homes in West Bank Palestinian villages - Yesh Din,

“Jewish extremists allegedly stoned homes and vehicles in two Palestinian villages in the Samaria region of the West Bank late Tuesday night as part of a pair of two hate crimes, the left-wing group Yesh Din said on Wednesday morning. In video and photographs provided, it was possible to see damage caused both in the villages of Hawara and Jaloud….Just as predictably as “the sun rises in the east, the settlers continue to riot and intimidate Palestinians and law enforcement agencies allow this,”Yesh Din CEO Lior Amihai said.”
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Orthodox Jews attempt to burn Jerusalem church,

“The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) yesterday condemned repeated Israeli settler attacks against the Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, a statement said. ACOHL’s statement came following an attempt by Orthodox Jews to set fire to the entrance of the church located in Jerusalem’s neighbourhood of Musrara, which is close to the Jewish Quarter. The statement stated that the local priest managed to extinguish the fire quickly, noting that the recordings of surveillance cameras showed Orthodox Jews carrying out the offensive.”

Israeli mob attacks Palestinian journalists in a West Jerusalem neighborhood,

“An Israeli mob today attacked Palestinian journalists working for the Turkish Anadolu news agency while doing a report in an all-Israeli West Jerusalem neighborhood. The mob attacked the two journalists, Mustafa Kharouf and Fayez Abu Rmeileh, who were working on a report in Mea Shearim, an ultraorthodox Jewish neighborhood in West Jerusalem, and smashed the glass of their car.”

Israel denies COVID vaccine to Palestinian student at Tel Aviv University,

“The Palestinian student, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect her safety, said that upon receiving the email, she inquired with her program whether she was eligible for the vaccination. After receiving a positive response, she began to plan her journey to the university — a trip she has to make regularly to get to her classes, as a Palestinian living in the occupied Palestinian territories with a travel permit authorized by the Israeli army. She left her home at 4 a.m. “I passed seven checkpoints, switched transportation eight times, walked in crazy weather, and reached the university at 9:30 a.m.” … In a letter sent to the university administration, the student described how she waited at the university’s makeshift vaccine site for six hours, and how she was given a number of excuses as to why she could not receive the vaccine, including her lack of Israeli health insurance, the inability to receive such health insurance as a Palestinian, and even the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over supplying the latter with vaccinations for Palestinians in the West Bank. …“During that long day, many approached me to express their apologies,” she wrote in her letter to the university. “I don’t have a problem with individuals, on the contrary, they were very nice and supportive.” She said that one university representative even offered to compensate her for the travel expenses from the West Bank to Tel Aviv, an offer the student found insulting. “I want justice and equality, not charity,” she wrote to the university.”

New Zealand state pension fund divests from Israeli banks,

“New Zealand’s $33 billion national pension fund has excluded five Israeli banks from its portfolio because of their role in financing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. An assessment by the NZ Super Fund concludes that holding shares in Israel’s biggest banks would violate its responsible investment policy. The document cites New Zealand’s 2016 vote for UN Security Council resolution 2334 which reaffirms the illegality of the settlements, as well as statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he intends to proceed with large-scale annexations of occupied Palestinian land….

The excluded financial institutions are First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. They join other Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian rights that were already excluded by the fund: arms makers Elbit Systems and Ashot and settlement construction firms Africa-Israel and Shikun & Binui.” See also “Guardians excludes five Israeli banks on responsible investment grounds” (NZSuper Fund)


Palestinian Scene

Palestinian Authority under fire for VIP vaccines,

“The Palestinian Authority has confirmed that it diverted some COVID-19 vaccination doses meant for medical workers to VIPs, as critics have claimed, but said this involved a small fraction of inoculations. A PA health ministry statement on Tuesday said 10 percent of the 12,000 doses it received were given to the Palestinian national football team, government ministers, presidential guards and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee. Another 200 doses went to the Jordanian royal court, after a request from Amman. But it said the other 90 percent went to health workers treating COVID-19 cases in intensive care units and emergency departments, and health ministry workers.”

Palestinian NGOs Call to Probe Claims Officials Got Special Access to COVID Vaccine,

“West Bank-based NGOs have called for an investigation of senior Palestinian officials who allegedly received special access to coronavirus vaccines, while most Palestinians still await the promised arrivals of the inoculations….Some of the information indicating that senior officials and the well-connected have received preferential access came from “decision makers who were offered the vaccine but refused them, demanding that the vaccine be given to those who needed them the most,” said Haj Hussein, the executive director of AMAN, an organization that promotes government transparency and fights against corruption. Similar information about preferential access to the vaccine has been received by the Independent Palestinian Commission for Human Rights, an agency that serves as a state comptroller of sorts and monitors the Palestinian Authority institutions and their commitment to human rights.”

PLO says Hamas is on board with a 2-state outcome and ‘peaceful’ resistance,

“The Palestinian Liberation Organization says it has secured Hamas’ agreement to a two-state outcome and the terrorist group’s commitment to peaceful action. The commitments were laid out in a letter the PLO sent last month to Hady Amr, the top Biden State Department official dealing with Israel and the Palestinians…Last week, the French version of The Arab News, a Saudi newspaper, confirmed the September statement’s existence on the record with a senior PLO official, Jibril Rajoub, and confirmed one of its components — Hamas’ commitment to peaceful resistance — with a senior Hamas figure, Husam Badran, a member of the group’s political bureau.”

Israeli Elections

MK Tibi: I love the words mother and father and am against LGBTQ people,

“Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told Arab-Israeli reporter Wael Awad that he is “likes the words mother and father” and is against the idea of the phrase “parent one and parent two” in an interview….Awad goes on to ask Tibi if he would welcome the support of gay people should they protest alongside him and he said that he would not.”

WATCH | Netanyahu Allies Compare Reform Jews to Dogs in Racist Election Ads,

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners have ratcheted up their election campaigns with incendiary material comparing Reform Jews to dogs and xenophobic ads warning that African asylum seekers would convert to Judaism. The video, circulated on Wednesday by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, depicted dogs wearing ritual items like kippot, tallit, and tefillin, along with sidelocks and glasses. In an accompanying post on social media, the party asserted: “When the question of ‘Who is a Jew’ is put in the hands of the High Court, this is the result.” The “grandmother” reference in the video is designed to evoke outrage at the concept of female rabbis.”

US Scene

Biden admin ‘enthusiastically embraces’ full IHRA definition of antisemitism,

“Secretary of State Tony Blinken wrote that the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, including its full list of examples. In a letter to American Zionist Movement President Richard Heideman obtained by Jewish Insider, Blinken said the administration is “eager to work with allies and partners to counter Holocaust distortion and combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance abroad while we strengthen our efforts at home.”” See also Lara Friedman’s analysis of this development on Twitter.

Senate letter calls on Blinken to denounce ICC decision on Israel,

“Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) are circulating a letter calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to denounce the decision by the International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber to authorize the body to investigate alleged war crimes by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have already signed onto the letter, according to a source familiar with the matter. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by JI, will remain open for additional signatures until the end of the week. While the State Department has previously spoken out against the ICC’s ruling, the letter encourages Blinken to “issue a more forceful condemnation of the Court’s actions” and to partner with international partners to “steer the ICC away from further actions that could damage the Court’s credibility by giving the appearance of political bias.””

Israel has become a wedge issue due to progressive left - David Friedman,

“While there were Democrats who supported the State of Israel, the push against by the so-called progressive Left, had stirred this controversy around support for the Jewish state…He said, “you cannot abandon principles to achieve great consensus” and “it is clear… that uniform support for Israel in the US is being challenged.””

Cornel West Is in a Fight With Harvard, Again,

“He said he is mystified as to why he would not be given a tenure review, but offered some possibilities: a reluctance to grant a coveted position to someone of advancing age, whose best work might be assumed to be behind him, and concerns that his support for the Palestinian cause might offend the prevailing orthodoxy and donors.” See also “Cornel West: Palestine is a ‘taboo issue among certain circles in high places” (Middle East Eye)