The announcement by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, saying there is a basis for initiating an investigation into suspicions that war crimes were committed in the West Bank and Gaza, has given the political and legal systems in Israel a headache.
The Israel Defense Forces is so far a secondary player in this matter. It is unclear what the immediate implications of this decision are for the army. In the absence of a permanent legal situation in the West Bank, the head of the IDF’s Central Command is the substitute sovereign, but it will fall on the cabinet to decide how the court in The Hague impacts its policy on settlements, which have expanded in recent years against the backdrop of power struggles on the right and the Trump administration’s support for Likud policies.
For the army, the main issue relates to Gaza. In her announcement, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda cited at least three incidents during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. She did not indicate which ones she meant, but one of them is presumably the one referred to as “Black Friday,” the battle that took place in Rafah after the abduction of the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin. The incident was investigated at length by the military police’s criminal investigation division. Last year, the military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, issued a controversial order to close that file.
Other incidents Bensouda may have been referring to included strikes on Palestinian medical teams and ambulances during the fighting. It seems that Operation Protective Edge, with its multiple civilian deaths (over 700 out of more than 2,000 fatalities, even according to conservative IDF estimates) has focused the international community’s attention on the occupied territories.
Bensouda also said she’d consider a preliminary investigation of the way Israel handles demonstrations along the Gaza border fence, protests that began in March 2018, in which more than 300 Palestinians have been killed, many of them unarmed civilians.