Israel’s Jenin operation amounts to war crimes, say experts

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Palestinians try to move a damaged car after Israeli army’s withdrawal from Jenin camp, in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on 5 July 2023 (Reuters)

International law forbids Israel from launching attacks on the territories it occupies, according to legal expertsLegal experts have said that Israel’s military operation in Jenin earlier this month, which killed 12 Palestinians and wounded 100 others, fits into the parameters of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

Susan Akram, a clinical professor at Boston University’s School of Law, said the raid on Jenin clearly amounts to war crimes for a number of reasons, including intentionally attacking a civilian population and attacking medical units.

“The Geneva Conventions include as war crimes during occupation, willful killings, willfully causing great suffering to an occupied population and extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity,” Akram said during a webinar on Thursday hosted by the Arab Center Washington, DC.

“There’s no doubt that what Israel carried out in Jenin constitutes war crimes.”

The other panelists on the webinar, Daniel Levy of the US/Middle East Project and journalist Dalia Hatuqa, agreed that Israel’s actions in the West Bank amount to war crimes.

Israel’s latest military raid on the Jenin refugee camp began on 3 July and saw Israeli forces utilise air power with drones and Apache attack helicopters. In addition to the death toll, more than 3,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.

The raids on Jenin and other Palestinian cities like Nablus have become routine over the past year. The Jenin refugee camp is home to almost 14,000 refugees, including many who were expelled from their homeland in 1948, and their descendants.

Israel has stated that the raids are an attempt to root out groups responsible for attacks on Israeli citizens, and the United States has also come to defend the latest raid, with the White House expressing support for “Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups”.

But Akram said that the narrative used by Israel does not stop its actions from being illegal under international law, noting that the West Bank is an occupied territory.

“Israel’s attacks on an occupied population are criminal in and of themselves because occupation law forbids the occupier to use military attacks against civilian targets in the territory it occupies,” she said.

Limits of international law

In the immediate aftermath of the raid on Jenin, several United Nations experts, including special rapporteur Francesca Albanese, stated that Israel’s actions might appear to constitute war crimes.

“Israeli forces’ operations in the occupied West Bank, killing and seriously injuring the occupied population, destroying their homes and infrastructure, and arbitrarily displacing thousands, amount to egregious violations of international law and standards on the use of force and may constitute a war crime,” the experts said in a statement.

Still, while the experts laid out the evidence for war crimes, holding Israel legally accountable on the international stage has proven difficult in the past.

‘No red lines’: US response to West Bank assault underlines Israel’s free hand

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At the end of last year, the UN passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to weigh in on the Israeli occupation.

The UN resolution asked the court for an opinion on how Israeli policies and practices “affect the legal status of the occupation, and what are the legal consequences that arise for all states and the United Nations from this status?”

Palestinian policy experts and academics previously told Middle East Eye that while any ICJ decision critical of Israel would help Palestinians in terms of raising awareness, it would do little to hold Israel accountable.

The ICJ last weighed in on the issue of Israel’s occupation in 2004, when it ruled that Israel’s separation wall in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem was illegal.

Israel rejected the ruling, and while the ruling has been included in numerous reports about Israel’s occupation, the wall remains intact to this day.

In December 2022, Al Jazeera also took a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court regarding the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by Israeli forces during an Israeli raid on Jenin in May 2022.

Since then, the court has acknowledged receipt of the complaint, but no further steps have been taken.

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Disclaimer: Israel's Jenin operation amounts to war crimes, say experts - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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