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Victims Should Not Be Treated The Same As Victimisers [Opinion]

Victims Should Not Be Treated The Same As Victimisers [Opinion]

The International Criminal Court has announced that it applied for arrest warrants against top Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.


Prof Mohd Nazari Ismail,
Hashim Sani Center for Palestinian Studies, University of Malaya

On Monday, May 20, Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced that his office has applied for arrest warrants against top Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes.

In the case of the Hamas leaders, the arrest warrants were for alleged crimes committed during the October 7 attack on southern Israel, whilst in the case of Israeli leaders, they were for crimes committed during Israel’s subsequent brutal attacks on the unfortunate inhabitants of Gaza, which has resulted so far in the death of more than 35 thousand Palestinians, 70 percent of whom are women and children.

The arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant are not surprising considering the indescribable atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza, especially during the last seven months. In reality, the issuance of arrest warrants for Israeli leaders is more than 76 years too late since Zionist leaders have committed war crimes since before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. As documented by the respected Jewish historian Ilan Pappe, Israel leaders, including Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir – who later became the prime ministers of Israel, were involved in massacres of Palestinian civilians when Zionist forces attacked Palestinian villages in 1948. The most famous was the Deir Yassin massacre in April 1948 when commandos of the Zionist para-military gang Irgun, which Menachem Begin led, and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. They then proceeded to murder over 100 men, women, and children systematically.

The massacres were part of the ethnic cleansing process perpetrated by Zionist forces against the Palestinians to ensure the success of the Zionist settler-colonial project, which envisioned the setting up of a country exclusively for Jews. The project’s primary strategy was to encourage European Jews to emigrate to Palestine in great numbers. However, since millions of indigenous Palestinians at that time populated the land, the other important part of the settler-colonial project was the forced displacement of the Palestinians to make way for immigrant Jews.  

This strategy resulted in around 750 thousand Palestinians becoming refugees, mostly in neighboring Arab countries such as Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The crimes committed during this period were war crimes, which should have resulted in the Zionist leaders being charged by the ICC. Unfortunately, the international community never brought the perpetrators to justice and instead accepted them as leaders of a newly established state in historic Palestine called Israel.

We should note that in 1947, the Zionists only controlled 6 percent of Palestine. However, by forcing the local indigenous Palestinian population out of their homes and villages, they were able to control 80 percent of the land. But they were not satisfied with what they had. Therefore, in 1967, the Zionists attacked the Arabs again and managed to control both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, thereby gaining control over 100 percent of the land.

The United Nations passed Resolution 242 in 1967, which demanded Israel withdraw from the West Bank, but Israel ignored this. Instead, Israel proceeded to seize more Palestinians’ lands to build illegal settlements and transfer more Jews to those settlements; in the process of doing so, Israel killed more Palestinians and destroyed more Palestinian homes and villages. In other words, Israeli leaders committed more war crimes. Therefore, all Prime Ministers of Israel should have been charged by the ICC, not only Netanyahu. Failure to charge them constitutes a grave injustice to the Palestinians.

However, the Palestinians never gave up their struggle to reclaim back their land and to achieve fundamental human rights of justice, freedom, and equality. Their engagement in armed resistance is recognized under international law and should be treated as legitimate attempts to fight against foreign colonizers of their lands. They are, in reality, freedom fighters in the same mold as the Algerian fighters who fought for the independence of their country from 1954 to 1962, the French Resistance fighters during World War 2, and the fighters of the African National Congress (ANC) during their fight against the apartheid regime of South Africa between 1948 and 1994. All of them were considered heroes or freedom fighters by the international community rather than criminals. Under the same logic, we must also regard Palestinian fighters as heroes or freedom fighters. The only reason why the international community does not consider them heroes is because they have not yet achieved victory.

In their fight against the Zionist settler-colonial project, the Palestinians have made a lot of sacrifices. They have lost lands, properties, and hundreds of thousands of lives. At the moment, almost ten thousand Palestinians are languishing in Israeli jails, many of them under the so-called administrative administration, i.e. without trial. They are prisoners of conscience. Since they refuse to give up their fight for freedom, justice, equality, and self-determination, Israel has resorted to more brutalities, which has resulted in more deaths and destructions on the side of the real victims of this conflict – the Palestinians. Therefore, the arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri serve to highlight the fact that the ICC works under a framework that is steeped in the colonial mindset that completely ignores crucial historical facts described above. It proves that the ICC does not see Palestinians as victims of an illegal and unjust settler-colonial project in their land. To charge their leaders as war criminals is beyond comprehension and unacceptable for those who understand the history of the Palestinian struggle over more than 76 years.

Photo of Mohd Nazari Ismail

Prof. Mohd Nazari Ismail (Phd.) is the Director of the Hashim Sani Centre for Palestine Studies, in the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Malaya.

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