The ICC arrest request is a fire alarm for Israel. Will it take heed?

the icc arrest request is a fire alarm for israel. will it take heed?

‘No one who cares about the future of Israel can stand on the sidelines.’ Photograph: Abir Sultan/AP

Regardless of what the final international criminal court decision will be, Israel has entered a new era regarding its relations with its western allies, including the United States. The actions it takes against the Palestinians will no longer go unaccounted for.

This situation was accelerated by the war with Hamas. But the reality is that the international reckoning would have come regardless. That’s because a 57-year occupation of the Palestinian people without a just resolution, coupled with a fascistic, racist government led by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – and reinforced by the far-right settler leaders Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, and the homeland security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir – cannot play without consequences in polite global company.

It’s remarkable that on the same day as the ICC announcement of a request for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, the Netanyahu government made a move, yet again, to undermine Israeli democracy. The ink on the ICC statement was not even dry before the Israeli communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, a lightweight known to toady to his boss whenever possible, seized reporting equipment from the Associated Press, claiming that it had ignored warnings and was providing news feeds to the now banished Al Jazeera. (He was forced to reverse his decision the same day after fierce US opposition.)

In addition to agreeing to shutter Al Jazeera with the creation of a new Israeli media law (whose legitimacy is being challenged in the Israeli courts), Karhi knows no limits. He has also attempted to dismantle Kan, the Israeli public media outlet, because his boss finds it unsuitable to his personal interests. So far, on that count, he has failed.

Similarly, at the same time that the Netanyahu government raged against the ICC dictate, it allowed renegade thugs to attack trucks on route to Gaza with necessary and urgent food supplies. This has been an ongoing issue in Israel. Netanyahu has refused to halt the raiding of supply trucks by an organized group of rightwing activists, actually aligned politically with Ben-Gvir, the minister in charge of policing, who have taken policy into their own hands by destroying food supplies traveling inside Israel en route to Gaza.

I don’t believe that Israel has a policy of starving Gazans, nor do I believe that Israel – even under this extreme government – and Hamas should be weighed equally. But I can certainly see why some, including the ICC, would accuse Israel of promoting a policy of starvation inside Gaza, based on statements by Gallant, who pronounced at the war’s beginning that he planned for a “complete siege of Gaza”.

The Israeli government must forcibly defend the transfer of needed food supplies.

A competent prime minister – let alone a prime minister who wants to be seen by global allies as responsible, upright and moral – would insist and ensure that these convoys be protected. But then, again, an upright prime minister also wouldn’t continue to allow Ben-Gvir to be part of his government, let alone appoint him in the first place.

Words and actions have consequences.

This is the same government that attempted a judicial coup before October 7 and continues to seek out ways to neuter the Israeli judiciary – one of the mainstays of Israel’s weakened democracy that, at the very least, has provided a backstop against global actions precisely like the ICC action. In the recent past, global institutions and outside nations have been assured that Israel’s high court would override any extreme Israeli government actions.

This is an Israeli government that allows Jewish settlers in the occupied territories in the West Bank to run rampant over civilian Palestinian populations

But not with this government. Instead, one of its key ministers just attended a gathering in Spain of European fascist parties promoting their philosophy to coincide with the upcoming European Union elections, led by well-known personalities such as the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán and the far-right French leader Marine Le Pen, neither a purveyor of a democratic world order or believers in international human rights.

This is an Israeli government that allows Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank to run rampant over civilian Palestinian populations, destroying crops and property, and endangering innocent civilians, as its government hoards more funds for the settlers, hands out guns to untrained civilians, and refuses to adhere to agreements already signed by Israel to uphold funding and other agreements with the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, even Benny Gantz, considered the realist in the current Israeli war cabinet and a potential rival prime ministerial candidate to Netanyahu, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the ultimatum that he just delivered to Netanyahu about leaving his party’s temporary place in the current Israeli government. He wants Netanyahu to meet certain demands, including formulating a real plan to return the hostages and a day-after scenario for Gaza. But where is the realism in the vision or the demands that will fend off international actions or resolve the existential issue of the occupation? The world is tired of waiting for Israel to offer a credible plan for Gaza – or the West Bank. More nations are announcing that they will recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Any mention of a day after must include the issue of Palestinian freedom. Anyone who has watched the thickening of the Israeli occupation for the past nearly six decades, knew it was just a matter of time before some awful darkness would descend between Israelis and Palestinians to force the hand of the occupation. Clearly, the hideous actions by Hamas of October 7 were not envisioned by almost anyone as the catalyst for where we are today. But here we are.

There must be a strengthening of the Palestinian Authority, and a genuine peace process. Without this, Israel will continue to drift away from the democracy so many Israelis value, desire – and need.

This is a moment of extreme crisis – and the ICC ruling is a fire alarm. Resorting to calling the ruling “antisemitic”, as some Israeli officials – including Netanyahu –have, won’t cut it. Whether the ICC was right or wrong, we have arrived at a moment from which there is no turning back. No one who cares about the future of Israel can stand on the sidelines.

​Jo-Ann Mort is co-author of Our Hearts Invented a Place: Can Kibbutzim Survive in Today’s Israel? She writes frequently about Israel for US, UK and Israeli publications

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