20 October 2023
Date: 19 October 2023
On 19 October 2023, 100 civil society organisations (CSOs), including Palestinian organisations monitoring and documenting violations of international humanitarian law against Palestinian civilians in the occupied Gaza Strip, and Genocide Scholars sent a letter to Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The letter urged Prosecutor Khan’s immediate intervention in relation to the latest Israeli large-scale military offensive on the Gaza Strip. Specifically, we are calling on the Court to urgently issue arrest warrants for the cases currently before your office; to investigate the crimes which have taken place and are being orchestrated across the occupied Palestinian territory since 7 October; to issue a preventive statement and visit Palestine before the end of 2023.
On 7 October 2023, Israel launched a large-scale retaliatory military offensive on Gaza aimed at regime change, annexation and the reduction of the Gaza Strip to rubble. The Israeli military forces have, since then, indiscriminately targeted the 2.3 million civilian population, infrastructure, residential and commercial buildings, mosques and hospitals as part of total warfare on the population. They have sealed off the territory, and employed other unlawful means and methods, that include collective punishment, forcible transfer, starvation, and the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas. As a result, and according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health as of 5:00 p.m. on 19 October 2023, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza has reached at least 3,785, including at least 1,500 children, with approximately 12,000 injured since the start of the operation on 7 October 2023.
Among those killed in the first four days of the offensive alone are at least 12 health workers and seven journalists. In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli military and settlers have killed 64 Palestinians and injured at least 1,300 others since 7 October 2023. According to our documentation up to 13 October 2023, it is clear that, prima facie, the Israeli authorities have committed a number of international crimes against the Palestinian people that fall under the jurisdiction of the Court, including that of wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, civilian objects, humanitarian workers, ambulances, hospitals and places of worship, extensive destruction of property, persecution of the civilian population, and incitement to genocide.
Alarmingly, Israeli officials have been issuing statements that indicate a clear intent to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity and incitement to commit genocide, using dehumanising language to describe Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to reduce Gaza to “rubble”, and told besieged Palestinians to leave Gaza. Israeli military spokesperson R. Adm. Daniel Hagari made the startling admission that “hundreds of tons of bombs” had already been dropped on the Gaza Strip, adding that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, stated: “We are imposing a complete siege on [Gaza]. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel – everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly”. The Coordinator of the Government in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, announced that “Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza, no electricity, no water, just damage. You wanted hell, you will get hell”. Nissim Vaturi, member of the Knesset for Likud, called for “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth. Those who are unable will be replaced.” Another member of the Knesset for Likud, Ariel Kallner, called for another Nakba: “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join!” Israel’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eli Cohen, promised that “[a]t the end of this war, not only will Hamas no longer be in Gaza, the territory of Gaza will also decrease”.
The statements accompanied by military action in Gaza and the escalation of arrests and killing in the West Bank, promoted a joint warning from UN Special Rapporteurs that “there is also a risk of genocide against the Palestine people”. Our organisations are similarly alarmed by these statements, which warrant your urgent intervention to prevent the commission of the most heinous international crimes, elements of which are already materialising on the ground with every passing minute. Our organisations warn that the cutting off of water, electricity and internet in Gaza, in addition to the denial of entry of humanitarian convoys of food, medicine, and other supplies necessary for the survival of the population that would pass through the Rafah crossing, which the Israeli military has also repeatedly bombed, are all evidence that Israel is taking steps to act on its inciteful genocidal statements.
On 13 October 2023 the Israeli military ordered 1.1 million Palestinians (half of Gaza’s population) in Gaza City and the Northern area to evacuate within 24 hours to the south of the Gaza Valley (Wadi Gaza). Not only was this order impossible and unfeasible to implement due to the narrow window of time allowed, the geographic scope of the order, and the circumstances surrounding its application, but the UN warned it “will only lead to unprecedented levels of misery and further push people in Gaza into the abyss”. Such an evacuation in the absence of imperative military necessity amounts to a prohibited method of warfare, and may, if it becomes permanent, amount to forcible transfer and displacement.
Reports from the ground indicate that a large number of civilians were unable to evacuate northern Gaza, particularly the wounded and sick, the elderly and those without means of transport. Ordering the evacuation and then following this with intensive shelling of civilian homes is tantamount to a death sentence for those who are vulnerable and unable to leave. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, at least 70 Palestinians have already been killed, and 150 others injured by Israeli airstrikes on 13 October 2023. The attacks occurred during the 24-hour window as people fled from the northern Gaza Strip through Salah Al-Din Road - one of the two ‘safe routes’ designated for the evacuation by the Israeli military. On 17 October 2023 the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab/Baptist Hospital and a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in northern Gaza, where thousands of displaced Palestinians had sought refuge, resulted in the killing of at least 500 persons, including women and children. Israel’s scorched earth policy in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the indiscriminate and disproportionate targeting of civilians, wiping out entire families, including women and children. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 50 families have been eradicated, and 1,200 bodies, among them around 500 children, are believed to be trapped under the rubble awaiting recovery.
We reiterate that it remains the Court’s role to contribute to the prevention of crimes as enshrined in the preamble of the Rome Statute, a role which is most effectively assumed by the Prosecutor. The practice of the former Prosecutor of “issue[ing] public, preventive statements in order to deter the escalation of violence and the further commission of crimes, to put perpetrators on notice and to promote national proceedings,” allowed the Prosecutor to react promptly to upsurges of violence and remain relevant to the victims’ suffering and concerns, particularly given that legal investigations take time until proceedings are initiated. Such statements have indeed proven an effective deterrent effect, as was the case with the planned forced displacement of the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin community in the West Bank, which the Israeli authorities did not pursue apparently to avoid an ICC investigation. In light of this, our organisations emphasise the invaluable persuasive effect of the Prosecutor’s voice.
Gaza is on the brink of a complete humanitarian catastrophe, and cannot afford longer episodes of inaction, silence and lack of accountability, which only reinforces the impunity long accorded to Israel. Your statement should remind all states of their obligations under international law. In light of Israeli official statements inciting genocide, we call on the Prosecutor to issue an official public statement to deter the commission of genocide and other international crimes against the Palestinian people.
As of 13 October 2023, and for the first time, Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights have not been able to conduct field work, document the apparent horrific crimes being perpetrated on the ground or publish daily reporting from the Gaza Strip. Our work has been compromised and obstructed by the intensity of Israel’s widespread and systematic bombing of Gaza. Our staff have been displaced from their homes, some of their homes have been bombed and destroyed, others have lost family members. They lack electricity, water and functioning internet, and it is too dangerous to move around the Gaza Strip. If the Israeli military continues to strike the Gaza Strip at such a scale and intensity, the entire 25-mile-Strip will be one big crime scene with no surviving witnesses to provide testimony, and no victims on the ground to participate in proceedings or to seek reparations. In light of our inability to document international crimes and human rights violations, we call on you to visit Palestine, as you have pledged to do, before the end of 2023 and to include the unfolding crimes in your ongoing investigation.
As the numbers of Palestinians killed and homes and hospitals destroyed are rapidly increasing by the minute, as more time passes without electricity and water, and with Israeli intention to commit genocide visibly materialising on the ground, your intervention is urgently required. Therefore, we call on you, the Prosecutor to:
We remain at your disposal and stand ready to provide further information to assist the investigation.
International Network of Genocide Scholars, Signing in Personal Capacity:
101. Dr. Raz Segal, Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Endowed Professor in the Study of Modern Genocide, Stockton University
102. Professor Barry Trachtenberg, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History, Wake Forest University
103. Robert McNeil, FAAPT(Hon). MBE., Anatomical Pathology Technologist (retired), International Forensic Team at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ambassador, Remembering Srebrenica UK, Patron of Bosnia and Herzegovina UK Network.
104. Professor Damien Short, Co-Director of the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) and a Professor of Human Rights and Environmental Justice at the School of Advanced Study, University of London
105. Taner Akçam, Armenian Genocide Research Program at UCLA
106. Victoria Sanford, PhD, Lehman College and the Graduate Center and an Affiliated Scholar at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity, City University of New York
Please find the formal letter submitted to Prosecutor Karim Khan here:
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