The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. But there is also a clear message to Israel behind it. Israel stands accused of war crimes against the Palestinians. Are some war crimes greater than others?
The Russian leader has been charged with personal responsibility for the abduction of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation. International law experts consider the most recent arrest warrant against Putin to be the most dramatic decision since the tribunal was founded in 2002. In the past, arrest warrants have been issued against heads of state from Africa, but not against one of the most powerful leaders in the world, such as the Russian president. Putin now has to be careful when leaving his country.
On Friday night, on our Israel Today Telegram channel, I sent out a quick thought-provoking question: The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin. He’s accused of war crimes in Ukraine. The same International Criminal Court previously indicted Israel. Now one has to ask whether the court was right about Putin and wrong about Israel, or correct on both counts, or incorrect on both counts.
The arrest warrant issued against Putin is valid in 123 countries around the world, not including Israel and the USA, as they are not members of the International Criminal Court. According to the arrest warrant, every country in Europe that Putin visits is obliged to extradite him to the tribunal in The Hague. There has been disagreement in the past as to whether international arrest warrants should apply to heads of state, or whether they should be protected from criminal prosecution. For example, the criminal court rejected an arrest warrant for the leader in Sudan, but this time decided to issue one for Putin. According to the tribunal in The Hague, it has “reasonable reasons to accuse Putin.”
For Putin and the Kremlin, “the arrest warrant is meaningless.” Russia has not signed the Rome Statute, on which the Constitution of the International Criminal Court is based, so Russia is not obliged to do anything, and views all decisions by the tribunal to be “null and void.” Some states reject the ICC because they fear interference with their own sovereignty. The USA, Russia, China and Israel, for example, refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the court. These nations have either declined to sign the Rome Statutes, failed to ratify after signing it, or withdrew their signatures.
According to the tribunal in The Hague, no one should go unpunished. Various legal experts have spoken in the Israeli media about the significance of the decision for Israel. In March 2021, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into “Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.” Regarding Israel’s indictment, it is too early to assess the importance of the precedent for Israel, but the message and warning from the court is clear. The tribunal will not hesitate to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli leaders, as well.
The experts stressed that the International Criminal Court has a pending request against Israel to conduct a special investigation into alleged war crimes in connection with the resettlement of the Jewish population in “occupied territories.” In addition, Israel’s actions against terror groups in the Gaza Strip will also be examined.
In spring 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the allegation that Israel was committing war crimes, clearly rejecting it: “Israel reiterates its clear position that the court in The Hague has no power to initiate investigations.” Netanyahu also accused the ICC of hypocrisy . “While Israeli soldiers fight in a highly moral manner against terrorists who commit war crimes against Israel’s people from dawn to dusk, the International Criminal Court has decided to condemn Israel, of all people.”
A few months earlier, the tribunal in The Hague had established that it was also responsible for areas occupied since 1967, such as the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
So which war crime is worse, Israeli or Russian? In both cases, Palestinians and Ukrainians accuse their enemies crimes against humanity. Isn’t Israel’s war crime a crime just because there is biblical backing for Israel’s existence? In other words, the world hates what God loves…
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told the BBC in an interview last night that “no prosecutor starts with an aim, but with evidence. Whether it’s a head of state or a military man, no one goes unpunished.” Khan noted that individuals are accountable for their actions. “You don’t have to be a lawyer, just a human being, to understand the seriousness of the crimes attributed to Putin.” Khan is the same prosecutor who undertook the investigation against Israel. In December 2022, the prosecutor said he intended to visit “Palestine” in 2023.
The International Criminal Court has the power to investigate individuals, but not states. It was set up to prosecute those responsible for crimes considered to be most serious – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The court has global powers, but is considered a last resort and only intervenes in cases where the local legal systems are unable or unwilling to carry out criminal prosecution.
And that is an acute danger today. If the Netanyahu government succeeds in enforcing judicial reform, then the international community will be able to say that Israel is no longer capable of self-criticism, condemnation and credible law enforcement activities. Under no circumstances can Israel lose its external credibility.
I do not think that fulfilling the biblical promise and settling the Jewish people in their ancient homeland is a war crime. If so, then Joshua’s conquest was also a war crime. Even though I am sure that Israel is not a war criminal, our enemies claim the opposite. I won’t be able to convince them. And if Israel is a war criminal, everyone can theoretically be a war criminal, including the US, including China, including Russia, including Syria and many other countries in history. So far in its history, the Jewish nation has suffered war crimes, but committed none.
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