London/Hague/Palestine: Bindmans LLP, in partnership with the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), has today lodged a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor’s Office in respect of Israel’s long, and continued policy, to deprive Palestinian civilians of property for settlements and in circumstances ‘not justified by military necessity’.
The ICJP’s investigations have revealed that Israel’s practice of illegally appropriating land from Palestinians is so widespread that it was compelled to partner with Bindmans LLP to lodge what it described as a ‘gateway’ complaint. The initial complaint, based on two specific cases, is to be followed by evidence of numerous other cases of illegal land theft or property destruction by Israeli authorities in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The first case is in relation to land appropriated from the Salhiah family in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. The Salhiah family lived in their property since 1950, having moved there following their expulsion from Ein Karim during the 1948 Naqba. Following decades of attempts by Israel to appropriate the Salhiah family property, on January 2022, the Israeli military evicted the family with the use of stun grenades and a violent military operation. A witness described the ‘invasion’ of the land as ‘like a war’, with the ‘deployment of Israeli soldiers, helicopters, bulldozers and fire trucks’. Members of the Salhiah family were assaulted and detained. The Salhiah property, including their homes, were demolished leaving the family homeless.
The second case relates to property in Khuza’a, Gaza belonging to the Kadih family. The Kadih’s have been the victims of a decades long systematic appropriation of their land. The family have owned their land for over 100 years during which time it has been home and provided an income to three generations of the family. Repeated attempts to appropriate the family’s land have included confiscation by Israel to build a separation fence to create a border between Gaza and Israel, and to thereafter relocate the fence deeper into Gaza. In 1956, during the ‘Khan Yunis massacre’ further land was confiscated by the military despite it being within established borders of Gaza. Then again in 1993, Israeli forces attempted to appropriate further land by moving the separation fence. Various continued illegal acts have resulted in the family now only retaining a small proportion of the land they originally owned.
The complaint, which was drafted by leading UK barristers, Julianne Morrison and Conor McCarthy of Monkton Chambers, instructed by Bindmans LLP, follows months of work by ICJP analysts who have painstakingly gathered evidence to support the ICC’s investigation which was opened by the ICC’s former prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on 3 March 2021. The ICC is mandated to investigate allegations of international crimes perpetrated since 13 June 2014 in the region.
The opening of the ICC’s investigation followed Bensouda’s announcement in 2019 that following a “thorough, independent and objective assessment” her preliminary examination of the situation had concluded that all the criteria required, under the Rome Statute, to open a formal investigation had been met. Importantly the Prosecutor announced that she was satisfied that:
I. there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip;
II. potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible; and
III. there were no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.
The ICC investigation continues under the authority of Karim Khan QC who was appointed the new ICC prosecutor in June 2021.
In 2022 the UN Human Rights Committee completed its review of Israel’s human rights practices and observed that:
“The Committee is deeply concerned at the continued construction and expansion of the Israeli settlements and unauthorized outposts in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan, and the transfer of the State party’s population thereto, despite recommendations made by different treaty bodies, the Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 (2016) and the General Assembly resolution 75/97 (2020).”
The Committee went on to note “with concern the State party’s [Israel’s] interference with full access of Palestinians and the Syrian Arab population to their lands and livelihood in the occupied territories, through wrongful expropriation, confiscation, requisitions and encroachment”.
Despite the UN’s insistence that Israel ceases its policy of land theft, the Israeli government has systematically expanded and supported the policy including the continuation of building settlements with no accountability for its actions.
The complaint, submitted by the ICJP, calls on the ICC prosecutor to include the cases it has submitted, and intends to submit, as part of his formal investigation. The ICJP is continuing to gather evidence into numerous further cases to submit to the ICC.
Tayab Ali, Director of ICJP and Partner at Bindmans LLP, stated: “The evidence available to support allegations of property related crimes perpetrated by the Israeli authorities is vast, credible and clear. The fact that this has been allowed to continue as an accepted policy for Israel’s illegal expansion is mind blowing. The silence and support from countries in the EU as well as the UK and USA is tantamount to complicity in these crimes. There is no hope for any peaceful resolution in the region unless the international community allow and support the ICC to function as an independent structure of accountability for the many crimes that the ICJP team are investigating in the region. Real hope for peace, needs real accountability”.
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