JERUSALEM – Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday angrily rejected an International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) ruling that paves the way for a war crimes probe into the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, condemning it as “pure anti-Semitism”.
“As prime minister of Israel, I can assure you this: we will fight this perversion of justice with all our might,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is pure anti-Semitism.”
On Friday, the ICC ruled that it has jurisdiction over the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, paving the way for the tribunal to open a war crimes investigation.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked the court for its legal opinion on whether its reach extended to areas occupied by Israel, after announcing in December 2019 that she wanted to start a full probe.
The ICC said its judges had “decided, by majority, that the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine… extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem”.
Palestine is a state party to the court, having joined in 2015, but Israel is not a member.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of 1967, and later annexed mostly Arab east Jerusalem.
Today, they are home to at least five million Palestinians defined by the United Nations as living under Israeli occupation. The Gaza Strip is blockade by Israel and ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ICC ruling as “a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families”.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza and has fought three wars against Israel, said “the most important step… is to bring the Zionist criminals of war before international courts and hold them responsible”.
But Netanyahu cried foul against any bid by the ICC to investigate “fake war crimes”.
“The court, established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people, is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people,” he said.
“First, it outrageously claims that when Jews live in our homeland, this is a war crime.
“Second, it claims that when democratic Israel defends itself against terrorists who murder our children and rocket our cities, we are committing another war crime,” he added.
He said the ICC should be investigating “brutal dictatorships like Iran and Syria who commit horrific atrocities almost daily”.
The US State Department said it has “serious concerns” about the ICC ruling, adding that Israel should not be bound by the court as it was not a member.