DECEMBER 20, 2019. The International Criminal Court Prosecutor announces the conclusion of a preliminary examination of the “situation in Palestine”. The Prosecutor determined that all the statutory criteria under the Rome Statute for the opening of an International Criminal Court investigation have been met. That decision meant that there was reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza. 

Ten months ago, a press conference was held in the Hague by legal counsel for Al Jazeera as they lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court, asking the court to open an investigation into the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh the previous May. The world had seen the horrific killing of Ms Abu Akleh. The world had seen the Israeli Defence Forces attack her entirely civilian funeral. The world had seen the utter impunity for her killing by Israeli state forces. Her employers asked for international legal protection.

The response of Israel was to refuse the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, deny Palestine’s jurisdictional right to refer itself or Israel to the court, and to refuse travel visas to investigators from the Hague to the Occupied Territories. 

The ICC has not delivered on either investigation.

Israel has been engaged in routine and flagrant human rights abuses of the most serious crimes up to and including war crimes. Every single day of every single Palestinian’s life in the Occupied Territories is one marked by apartheid and the denial of fundamental human rights and dignity. That Palestinian farms and homes are being forcibly taken in illegal settlements on a daily basis tells us there is zero concern for Palestinians. Calling settlements “illegal” makes no difference to the evicted. Palestinian children are routinely abused, arrested, assaulted and killed, never making international news, telling us that there is an acceptable level of war crime tolerated against Palestinians. And always has been. 

The attempt by Western political actors to assert a symmetry of violence between Israel and the Palestinian people following the Hamas attacks on Saturday was too predictable, but of course the symmetry of blame for violence does not equate to a symmetry of a right to defence. Hamas targeting Israeli civilians was horrific, but for that to light up international governmental buildings with the Star of David, when those actors are silent as Palestinian children are routinely murdered in front of cameras, speaks to the hypocrisy of the West as much as it does to the desperate position of the Palestinian people. Western governments' immediate and unqualified support for Israel gave the green light for the unrestrained, genocidal actions of this criminal Israeli state that will not recognise international human rights or law. And all of the actors knew it would. 

Had the ICC or the international community held Israel to account for its abuses to date, might the Hamas attacks not have happened? Might the Palestinian people who chose to strike back have chosen a peaceful route had that been available to them? We will never know, and neither will they. Instead, we watch the carpet bombing of Gaza and what feels like the end of all hope for a two-state solution. Never has there been a more a devastating failure of international diplomacy, or human rights norms. The blood of Palestinian and Israeli civilians spills with that failure’s desolation.