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18 August 2022

‘Gateway’ war crimes case submitted against Israel on behalf of Salhiah family and others

5 mins

Bindmans LLP, in partnership with the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), has 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’.

Following investigations by the ICJP, revealing just how widespread Israel’s practice of illegally appropriating land from Palestinians is, Bindmans lodged a ‘gateway’ complaint to the ICC. 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.

Case one – land appropriated from the Salhiah family

The first case is in relation to land appropriated from the Salhiah family in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. The Salhiah family lived on 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, in 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, was demolished, leaving the family homeless.

Case two – property in Khuza’a, owned by the Kadih family

The second case relates to property in Khuza’a, Gaza, belonging to the Kadih family. The Kadihs 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 their 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, drafted by Julianne Morrison and Conor McCarthy of Monkton Chambers, instructed by Bindmans, follows months of work by ICJP analysts who have 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:

  1. 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
  2. Potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible
  3. 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 United Nations 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 United Nation’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, Partner at Bindmans acting in this case, and Director of the ICJP, 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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