United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant (Wikicommons/ Chad J. McNeeley)

Extermination, murder, starvation of civilians, wilfully causing great suffering and intentionally directing attacks against civilians. These are the crimes levelled at Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant by Karim Khan (see right).

He is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Khan said that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Israeli ministers “bear criminal responsibility” for war crimes and “crimes against humanity” committed in Gaza. They used acts of starvation, murder as a war crime and intentionally directed attacks against civilians “as part of a common plan” to “collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza”.

Khan is now seeking an arrest warrant for Netanyahu and Gallant. The list of crimes won’t be a surprise for many. We’ve seen the evidence of Israel’s genocide for more than seven months, even if our leaders have tried to ignore them. But the charge of war crimes by the ICC is still a devastating blow for Israel.

The ICC is the only permanent international court that can prosecute war criminals for crimes against humanity. And its actions have enraged the West. Khan revealed that “a senior leader” told him the ICC “is built for Africa and for thugs like Russian president Vladimir Putin”—not for the West and its allies.

Predictably Netanyahu repeated slurs about antisemitism. He said that Khan was “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world”. The outrage against Netanyahu is stacking up, even if the ICC will not punish him for all his crimes.

To show “balance” Khan said the court would also push for the arrest of three Hamas leaders. But the ICC accusing Netanyahu of war crimes is a big moment. It will make it easier for pro-Palestine activists to argue in workplaces, schools and universities that the Israeli state is guilty of genocide. 

And by implication the ICC’s charges are also an indictment of Israel’s Western allies. If Netanyahu is guilty of murder, extermination and deliberate starvation of civilians, so are those who arm and fund Israel. That includes Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak—and Keir Starmer. And for all their recent claims to be holding back the Zionist state, the West has rushed to defend Netanyahu.

President Joe Biden said, “The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous.” He added that what is happening to the Palestinians “is not genocide”. Then he said, “Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.” 

Biden is an apologist for murder. But he is right that there is no equivalence between the Israeli state and Hamas. Hamas hasn’t levelled vast sections of Israeli cities with bombs. It hasn’t closed off checkpoints and border crossings to intentionally starve civilians to death. It hasn’t systematically tried to destroy all healthcare infrastructure or targeted health care workers.

It hasn’t held Gaza under siege for 17 years in an open-air prison. And Israel has—so far— murdered at least 35 Palestinians for every Israeli that Hamas killed on 7 October. The Palestinian resistance is fighting in reaction to the brutality that Israel has used against their people for more than 76 years. There is no equivalence between Israel—the oppressor— and Hamas—an expression of an oppressed group fighting back.

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