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ICC action a proud moment for the Global South

Palestinians have been seeking to enlist the ICC’s help to hold Israel accountable for more than 15 years (File/AFP)
Palestinians have been seeking to enlist the ICC’s help to hold Israel accountable for more than 15 years (File/AFP)
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27 May 2024 11:05:42 GMT9
27 May 2024 11:05:42 GMT9

Even the most optimistic of political analysts did not expect that the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor would utter these words: “I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu … and Yoav Gallant … bear criminal responsibility for … war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Aside from the two Israelis, Karim Khan also included three Palestinians on his application requesting arrest warrants from the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber. That is important, but we must remember that, as per Western thinking, Palestinians have always been the guilty party. The evidence of this claim is that the West has long portrayed Israel as a country at war in self-defense. Consequently, Palestinians — despite being occupied, dispossessed and disinherited — are the aggressors. This bizarre logic is not strange if seen within the larger power paradigm that has defined the West’s relationship with Palestine and, by extension, the Global South.

For example, out of 54 individuals indicted by the ICC since its inception in 2002, 47 are African — a fact that has rightly agitated governments, civil societies and intellectuals throughout the Global South for many years.

On Western duplicity, Aime Cesaire, a Martinican intellectual and politician, wrote: “They tolerated Nazism before it was inflicted on them, they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.”

The Second World War inspired new thinking on the part of the West. The International Court of Justice and the ICC, among others, were the direct outcome of that terrible Western war. It was the West’s way of trying to protect the new status quo that was established by the victors.

For more than 15 years, Palestinians have been seeking to enlist the ICC’s help to hold Israel accountable

Dr. Ramzy Baroud

The Global South joined in anyway. “Africa had a particular interest in the establishment of the court, since its peoples had been the victims of large-scale violations of human rights over the centuries,” a representative of the Organization of African Unity said in Rome, the birthplace of the Rome Statute, in 1998.

Predictably, however, the ICC turned into a platform where former colonial masters cast judgment on the non-European world. In that sense, justice was hardly served.

As always, Palestine has served, and continues to serve, as a litmus test of the international order. For more than 15 years, Palestinians have been seeking to enlist the ICC’s help to hold Israel accountable for its military occupation and various crimes in Palestine.

The Palestinians have done so simply because any attempt at establishing a practical mechanism to end the Israeli occupation through the UN has been met with a cruel American veto.

As the Israeli occupation turned into a permanent one and racial apartheid spread its tentacles to cover every inch of Palestine, the US’ support of Israel has become a first line of defense against any international criticism, let alone action aimed at reining in Israel.

Even though the US has refused to join the ICC, it still has great influence over the organization, either through sanctions or pressure imposed by its allies that are members of the court.

Thus, the ICC procrastinated. Decisions that should have taken only months took years. The institution, which was created to deliver swift justice, became a bureaucratic legal apparatus that did everything in its power to escape its responsibilities toward the Palestinians.

However, the persistence of Palestinians and the massive solidarity they have obtained from countries throughout the Global South eventually paid off.

In 2009, Palestinians filed their first application to join the ICC. It took more than three years for then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to reach his decision, in 2012, denying them such urgent membership on account of their legal status as mere observers at the UN.

Their persistence and the massive solidarity from countries throughout the Global South eventually paid off

Dr. Ramzy Baroud

The rest of the world again rallied behind Palestine and, later that year, the UN General Assembly granted Palestine its “nonmember observer state” status.

It took another three years for Palestine to officially join the ICC. Then, in 2019, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that the so-called statutory criteria needed to begin an investigation in Palestine were satisfied. However, instead of opening an investigation, Bensouda sent the matter back to the Pre-Trial Chamber for confirmation.

An official investigation was not opened until March 2021, but that ground to a halt when Khan replaced Bensouda later that year.

So, what happened between March 2021 and May 20, 2024, that allowed the ever-reluctant Khan to go as far as requesting arrest warrants?

First, the Israeli genocide in Gaza, where the number of victims is in the tens of thousands.

Second, the credibility of the West-enshrined legal system that has governed the world since 1945 was at stake. This explains the emphasis made by Khan in his May 20 statement: “If we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally … we will be creating the conditions for its collapse.”

Third, the solidarity of the Global South, which has served as the backbone of all Palestinian efforts at international legal institutions.

After decades of a one-sided approach to global conflicts, the pendulum is finally shifting. Indeed, when we say that Gaza is changing the world, we mean it.

  • Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and author. He is editor of The Palestine Chronicle and nonresident senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappe, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out.” X: @RamzyBaroud
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