Entitled to Protection, Palestinians Should Join the ICC, Now

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Protesting in solidarity with a one-month-long Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, Nadeem Nawara, 17, and Muhammad Odeh, 16, were shot dead by the Israeli army near the town of Ramallah a week ago. In the past, Israel has justified most killings of Palestinian protesters by describing them as “posing a security threat” and claiming that the army was responding in “self-defense.” However, this time the shooting was caught live on camera by the rights group Defense for Children International. A CNN camera that was also on the scene captured an Israeli soldier firing at the two youths. The footage clearly shows that they were unarmed and posed absolutely no threat to anyone. This documented incident raises two major questions. First, to what extent can Israel continue to use “self-defense and security” as a blanket explanation for its actions in the Palestinian territories? Second, if security entitles Israel to shoot indiscriminately, even at unarmed youth, then what about the security of Palestinians? Who protects the Palestinians under occupation and under what terms? The documented murder of Nawara and Odeh makes it more necessary than ever before that Palestine joins the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Both the UN and the U.S. Department of State demanded that Israeli authorities conduct a transparent investigation into the shooting. Last Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded, saying “we don’t need an American request to investigate the subject.” He added, “I reject any request and the hypocrisy we see worldwide.” It is unclear whether the United States will follow its demand with other measures to force an investigation, but given the history of similar crises, it is very unlikely that Washington or the UN will follow up with concrete steps. The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, has no protection guarantees to offer to its citizens, negating its status as a functional national authority. The PA does have one alternative at its disposal, however, and that is obtaining Palestine’s long-overdue membership at the ICC.

To justify its existence, and in the absence of a credible protection mechanism, the PA owes its people the pursuit of protection through international law, and in particular the ICC. The pressure on the PA to join the ICC is mounting, and the PA will not be able to avoid such a move for long. In fact, just two weeks ago 17 Palestinian and international organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, called on the PA to urgently seek access to the ICC. In addition, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, former chief ICC prosecutor, encouraged the PA to join the ICC in a May 12 interview with Al-Monitor. He said, “The presence of the ICC in the region will encourage the sides to think creatively about how to solve their problems in their bilateral relations.”

The United States should not give in to Israeli pressure to use the protection of Palestinian civilians as a bargaining chip in negotiations which have gone on for 20 years without success. The security and protection of the Palestinian people is a basic right guaranteed by international law and the United States should refrain from pressuring the PA to accept negotiations and financial aid as a substitute. Negotiations and protection of civilians are completely unrelated issues and a negotiation process that expects an entire population to remain vulnerable to acts of murder, as in the case of Nawara and Odeh, does not deserve to exist in the first place. When such a tradeoff comes into play, no one should ever hesitate to choose the protection of civilians over the lucrative industry of endless negotiations.

Once Palestine joins the ICC, the court’s jurisdiction will provide coverage against human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, regardless of whether the source of such violations is Israel or the PA itself. In other words, this will establish a foundation for the prevalence of the rule of law in the Palestinian territories. Furthermore, the ICC holds occupying powers to international standards, particularly regarding the transfer of populations to or from the occupied lands. Palestinians would be protected against illegal colonization activities and the demolition of their homes. According to Human Rights Watch, the Israeli government has begun construction on more than 9,480 settlement homes since Netanyahu came to power, while the demolition of Palestinian houses has left 4,600 homeless.

The international community should firmly reject the Israeli military’s murder of Nawara and Odeh in the name of self-defense and security. Lieberman is correct—Israel should not investigate the incident. It should be examined by independent, U.N.-mandated investigators. The Israeli claim of “self-defense” has no limits. Under this elusive term, Israel has annexed lands, built colonies, expelled Palestinians, and demolished their homes. It is because of the same ambiguous Israeli self-defense claim that the last round of negotiations failed. The time has come for the United States and the international community to draw this line for Israel. The international community must have one clear message to all: when you shoot in the name of security and self-defense, you will be investigated, and when caught, you will be prosecuted. The civil world should have no place for human rights violators to act with impunity. An independent investigation of Nawara and Odeh’s deaths and the immediate admission of the PA to the ICC is a good starting point.

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. You can find it here.