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Khleif '15: Palestine, the ICC and why I’m ready

In early January, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon announced that President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’ proposal to join the International Criminal Court was approved. Effective April 1, Palestine will join 122 other states in a court that seeks to establish global justice and to hold the perpetrators of the world’s most heinous crimes accountable for their actions. This is a major move forward for Palestine after garnering non-member observer state status in 2012. 

But when I express my enthusiasm to friends around campus, I am usually met with three different responses. Response A: no comment. Many don’t know enough about the issue as a whole and therefore don’t have an opinion. Response B: with furrowed brows, some ask if I really think this is the best move. They say, “Targeting Israel could be problematic, considering ongoing negotiations.” And Response C: “Israel has only been defending itself, so it shouldn’t be taken to court” — a statement I, as a Palestinian, personally disagree with, though I do not condone violent actions launched by either side.

Regardless of political stance, one should view Palestine’s inclusion in the ICC as an improvement on the status quo — an alternative to the forms of action both sides have been taking in recent years.

Rather than receiving applause for taking responsible measures, Palestine has met with severe worry from individuals and even threats from countries such as the United States and Israel. My newsfeed is riddled with comments supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and his threats to cut millions in aid to Palestine should it follow through with joining the ICC. Sen. Rand Paul, R-K.Y., proposed a new bill that would cut funding to Palestine entirely.

Well, I am here to clarify why I believe Palestine’s membership in the ICC is a good thing and why I think others around campus should be excited too.

At face value, many see Palestine’s joining the ICC as an aggressive move to target Israel. This is not the case. As Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, pointedly mentions in his Jan. 15 Los Angeles Times editorial, Palestine’s membership means that all crimes committed on Palestinian territory will be subject to investigation. Meaning, crimes committed by both Palestinians and Israelis will be subject to review. When joining the ICC, a party not only gains the right to request investigation into another party’s actions but also subjects itself to investigation.

This is precisely the reason why the United States and Israel withdrew from the ICC in 2002. They did not want to risk investigation for alleged war crimes committed in their respective conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Though I have never supported Hamas or its actions, there is something commendable about the group’s willingness to embrace transparency.

Furthermore, the ICC does not possess the authority to prosecute entire groups or states. The function of the ICC as an autonomous organization — there’s an online handbook titled “Understanding the International Criminal Court,” for those of you seeking more information — is to prosecute individuals. According to the handbook, “the Office of the Prosecutor’s prosecutorial policy is to focus on those who, having regard to the evidence gathered, bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes.”

Some wonder how Palestine’s inclusion in the ICC will weaken peace negotiations. What negotiations? Israel, Palestine, the United States and other third parties have been “negotiating” for more than 60 years — a feat worthy of the Guinness World Records Book. Many have been advocating “negotiations” for almost as long.

And even if effective negotiations were occuring, one could contend that settlement expansion, segregated bus systems and the creation of what is arguably the world’s largest open-air ghetto also undermine the peace processes — but my newsfeed doesn’t seem to be lighting up with these atrocities. 

It is clear that peace talks have not worked in the past, are not working now and will not work in the near future. So why not take the case to an independent, international organization designed for predicaments such as this one? Though it won’t stop all the violence, it will transfer battles from the field to the courtroom.

Palestine’s inclusion in the ICC reflects the international community’s desire for change and for summers reminiscent of 2014 to never grip the region — and the world — again. It is a mark of progress and a way to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions, regardless of their political, religious or ideological affiliations.

Joining the ICC does not guarantee investigation or trial, but it does establish the groundwork for something other than violence — something other than nothing.

And to the students who do not think Israel has done anything worthy of inquiry, then there’s nothing to worry about during trial.


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