World courts rebuke Israel, but impunity continues with US support


Two separate international courts issued rulings against Israel’s war on Gaza in May, further isolating the country that is turning into a global pariah over its continued mass killings and destruction in Gaza.

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan announced on May 20 that he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yaov Gallant over potential charges of war crimes committed in Gaza.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“My office submits that the evidence we have collected, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements from the alleged perpetrator group, shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.”

While Khan said he was also pursuing charges against Hamas leaders, his push for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant shook Israel and its Western allies, especially the United States.


US response to ICC

In Washington, the Biden administration was quick to condemn Khan’s move. Both the White House and the State Department released statements against the decision.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said in a statement. 

“We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

The argument that the ICC prosecutor was pushing “equivalence” between Israel and Hamas became a prominent feature of the US criticism. 

But legal experts argue that the law must apply to all parties equally, and any charges must be based on facts, not perceptions that Israel is superior to Hamas. 

The Biden administration also focused on two contradictory points when challenging the request for arrest warrants. It claimed that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Israel. It also accused Khan of short-circuiting Israeli cooperation with his probe with his announcement. 

But that position raises an important question: if the ICC has no power to investigate war crimes in Palestine, why was Israel supposedly cooperating with Khan?

In reality, Palestine is a permanent observer state at the United Nations, and it accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2015. 

So the court – which investigates and prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – has the power to look into alleged abuses committed in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza.


ICJ ruling

Days after Khan’s announcement, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top judicial body at the UN ordered Israel to stop its offensive against Rafah in southern Gaza.

ICJ judges said Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah governorate which may inflict upon the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that would bring about its physical destruction in whole and in part.” 

The court practically ruled that the invasion of Rafah could contribute to the genocide of Palestinians. 

Earlier this year, the ICJ ordered Israel to take steps to prevent genocide in Gaza.

The ICJ decision was more difficult for Washington to condemn. After all, the ICJ’s jurisdiction is indisputably universal. And the Biden administration itself has been warning Israel against invading Rafah.

Thus, the State Department generally backed the ICJ’s role while calling on Israel to respect international humanitarian law without addressing the specifics of the Rafah ruling.

“We have made clear that we respect the court’s vital role in this area and that we fully expect Israel to comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law, and we will keep pressing them to do that,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on May 28.


The red line

President Biden himself had repeatedly voiced opposition to the invasion of Rafah. In fact, the only time he warned Israel of real consequences for its actions was when he said he would withhold bombs and artillery shells to the US ally if it attacks Rafah. 

But Israel has not only ignored and crossed that red line; it bombed it. Israeli attacks have killed dozens of Palestinians in Rafah and displaced nearly one million people.

An Israeli attack on a camp of displaced people on May 26 was especially gruesome. It killed 45 Palestinians, leaving behind decapitated children and charred bodies. 

So how did Biden – who says he opposes the Rafah assault – respond to the massacre?

The White House suggested that its unconditional support for Israel will persist. “As a result of this strike on Sunday, I have no policy changes to speak to,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. 

As for the red line, the Biden administration appears to be willfully refusing to acknowledge the fact that Israel is invading Rafah.

“With respect to reports of tanks in central Rafah today, it’s not something we have seen or have been able to verify at this point,” Miller, at the State Department, said this week. 

Hours earlier, several Israeli and Palestinian media outlets had confirmed that Israeli tanks were indeed in the middle of Rafah. 

The US, with all of its intelligence and technological capabilities, however, said it was unable to assess the claims of its own allies. 

These recent positions by the Biden administration have proved that the US and the rest of the West behind it will continue to back Israel and ensure impunity for its crimes, regardless of what international courts and so-called rules-based system say.