Occupied West Bank – On December 2, Eman Nafii was one of dozens of Palestinians invited to a meeting with prosecutor Karim Khan of the International Criminal Court in the occupied West Bank. As the wife of Israel’s longest-serving Palestinian prisoner, Nafi wanted to talk to Khan about her husband and the Israeli occupation.
But Khan spent most of the meeting talking before his team gave Nafi and other Palestinian victims just 10 minutes to tell their stories.
“People got angry. They said to him: ‘You come to listen to us for ten minutes? How are we going to tell you our stories in 10 minutes?’” Nafi told Al Jazeera.
“One of the women (with us) came from Gaza. She lost 30 members of her family in the (ongoing war). She shouted, ‘How can we explain this in 10 minutes?’”
While Khan ended up listening to victims for about an hour, Palestinians fear he is setting a double standard by focusing his efforts solely on Hamas and ignoring the serious crimes accused of Israel in a deadly two-month war.
Many were disappointed that Khan accepted an Israeli invitation to visit Israeli communities and areas that Hamas attacked on October 7, while rejecting an offer from the Palestinians to visit the hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements, checkpoints and refugee camps in the occupied West Bank .
During his three-day visit, Israel also did not allow Khan to enter Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 17,000 people since October 7 and forced most of the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million residents from their homes.
Most of those killed were women and children, while thousands of young men are now being rounded up, many of them stripped and taken to unknown locations. Legal experts have warned that Israel’s atrocities in Gaza could soon amount to genocide.
Despite mounting evidence and ongoing atrocities, Khan has shown little interest in seriously investigating Israel, according to Palestinian officials, victims and legal scholars.
“Khan was excited to initiate this investigation [in the occupied territories] after October 7th. This is alarming,” said Omar Awadallah, who heads U.N. human rights organizations as part of the Palestinian Authority, the political body that governs the West Bank.
“[The Palestinian Authority] gave him jurisdiction retroactively from 2014. [Khan] I can’t say he didn’t see any crimes [in the occupied territories] from 2014 to October 7,” Awadallah told Al Jazeera.
A viable alternative?
On January 2, 2015, the State of Palestine signed the Rome Statute, giving the ICC jurisdiction to investigate atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The move was seen as a victory for Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups fed up with the Israeli justice system’s failure to punish Israeli officials, settlers and soldiers who committed crimes such as land theft and extrajudicial killings in the occupied territories.
According to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization that campaigns against illegal settlements in the West Bank, Palestinians injured by Israeli soldiers have less than a 1 percent chance of receiving justice if they file a complaint in Israel.
Although the ICC offers an alternative to Israeli courts, no arrest warrants have been issued against Israeli officials or soldiers for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, according to a legal expert from Al Mezan, a Palestinian human rights organization who is seeking justice in Gaza sets in.
“We have already provided a lot of legal analysis and evidence to the prosecutor’s office before Khan’s election,” the expert, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from Israeli authorities, told Al Jazeera. “We believe that [Khan’s] The office now has enough evidence to issue arrest warrants for Israeli political and military leaders.”
After returning from his three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, Khan released a statement in which he made little mention of the mounting evidence implicating Israel in the commission of crimes against humanity such as apartheid in the West Bank and war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.
Khan said only that his visit was not “investigative in nature” and called on Israel to respect the legal principles of “discrimination, caution and proportionality” in its ongoing bombing and ground offensive in Gaza.
Khan had a different tone when he addressed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, calling them “grave international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”
Khan’s statement angered the Palestinian victims he met briefly in Ramallah.
“What really made us unhappy was what he wrote after the visit,” Nafi said. “It is not intended to create an equation between the victim and his murderers. We wanted him to tell the Israelis to stop what they were doing to the prisoners [stop] what they are doing to Gaza.”
Al Jazeera submitted written questions to Khan’s office that raised Palestinian criticism of his West Bank visit and statement. His office responded by emailing Al Jazeera several of Khan’s previous statements without answering any of the questions.
In September 2021, Khan said he would prioritize crimes committed by American forces in Afghanistan and focus his investigations on Taliban and Islamic State atrocities in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
Critics believe Khan gave in to political pressure from the United States – a state that is not a party to the Rome Statute – which sanctioned Khan’s predecessor for daring to open a case against American troops in Afghanistan.
But Khan justified his decision by saying the court had limited resources and that the Taliban and the Islamic State had committed more serious crimes. Palestinians now fear that Khan could use a similar rationale for investigating Hamas, but not Israel.
“We have not yet seen any prosecutor take the Palestine issue seriously, which shows that the entire system of international law has been torn to pieces,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian legal scholar.
Buttu added that the ICC has effectively become a court that acts in the political interests of powerful Western states rather than in accordance with strict legal principles.
She pointed to Khan’s decision to charge Russian President Vladimir Putin with war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The ICC has become a very political court that has succeeded in bringing charges against Putin,” she told Al Jazeera. “But eight weeks into what is believed to be the worst man-made disaster [in Gaza] and the prosecutor was silent and just comes [to visit] at the request of Israel.”
Nafi agreed, adding that Khan could not claim he was unaware of Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians.
“How many people does he want to see killed until he speaks out,” she told Al Jazeera. “I want him to be brave enough to tell the truth and say it publicly.”
Additional reporting by Al Jazeera correspondent Zein Basravi.
Source : www.aljazeera.com