By Mohammed Omer
Although ignored by much of the Western media, a battle which echoes the biblical story of David and Goliath is taking place in The Hague. In the modern-day version, young David is personified by a soft-spoken 15-year-old girl named Amira Alqerem. Goliath takes the form of the world’s fourth most powerful, nuclear-armed military state: Israel. At stake is victims’ rights the world over and the international commitment to “never again.” It is this commitment—as well as to international law, as laid down in the Fourth Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that Amira is asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to recognize and uphold.
The teenager’s story begins in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 14, 2009, in the waning days of Israel’s murderous “Operation Cast Lead” assault on Gaza. Residents of the Tal Al Hawa neighborhood, her family awoke to the sound of a missile smashing into their home, killing Amira’s 42-year-old father, a shoe industry businessman with permission to enter Israel on business, and injuring her in the leg. With Amira wounded, her 16-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother left her in the damaged home and went to seek assistance. Both were killed by another Israeli missile before they could return to Amira. For several days the injured teenager lay in the rubble beneath the veranda, surviving on water dripping from a partially functioning faucet and drifting in and out of consciousness. Finally, realizing that help would not come to her, she stumbled to her father’s dead body, hoping his cell phone would work—but it no longer did.
Looking out at the rubble of her former neighborhood, the young girl recognized a journalist’s home which was still standing. Painstakingly, dragging her injured leg, she made her way to the door, found it open and entered. Inside she found water bottles and clothing. Weak, she lost consciousness again. She was saved when the home’s occupants returned and discovered her.
Fast forward to Monday, Aug. 31, when Amira—cheered on by French, Belgium, German and Dutch supporters carrying banners and shouting “Justice for Amira” in French and English—and her lawyers entered the International Criminal Court and formally filed suit against the Israeli government.
Although bereft of her family and home, severely injured, and exhausted following several surgeries, the resolute teen had decided that the time had come to put an end to the killing and oppression that caused the death of her entire family. Rather than take up arms, however, she took up advocates, trusting in the law for justice and humanity for truth.
“I am here to lodge a complaint against the occupying army,” the young woman stated softly in an interview outside the courthouse in The Hague. “I hope this complaint will succeed,” she added, “because it is the truth.”
Elaborating on the reason for the lawsuit, Amira’s lawyer, Gilles Devers, focused on evidence suggesting the attacks killing the teen’s family and other Gazans were aimed at civilians rather, than away from them. “This was a crime against humanity,” he stated. “That is why we brought it to the ICC.”
Another of Amira’s lawyers stated emphatically as he entered the building, “Israeli politicians and military leaders must be held responsible.”
And attorney Narriman Kattineh said she had full confidence in the ICC judicial process to uphold international law. “We expect this will put an end to the impunity of the Israeli state,” she said. “We are establishing facts that can be qualified in international law as war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
On Sept. 1, Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Ali Kashan and more than 360 parties, including non-governmental organizations, submitted complaints and evidence to the office of ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Among the details submitted were the testimonies of multiple witnesses describing the indiscriminate targeting and killing by Israeli soldiers of unarmed civilians, including several carrying white flags. Also submitted were reports describing Israel’s use of weapons designed to cause the maximum suffering on civilians, and evidence strongly suggesting that Israel, contrary to its public statements, failed to distinguish between civilians and military targets. These same reports also cited instances where Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the period covered, and the ICC is looking into these as well.
After first initiating a “preliminary analysis” of alleged crimes committed by Israel during its Gaza offensive, the ICC’s Moreno-Ocampo noted that, due to Palestine’s status as a non-state, the court does not have jurisdiction in Gaza. However, in a July 1 New York Times op-ed, Moreno-Ocampo noted that the fact that “the Palestinian National Authority accepted the jurisdiction of the court” laid the groundwork for a possible investigation. According to ICC officials, the issue of Palestine’s status is still pending.
Israel is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court and claims it does not fall under its jurisdiction. But, asserted attorney Kattineh, “This does not mean that Israel cannot be punished for war crimes.” The leaders of the Nazi, Rwandan and Sierra Leone governments were not members of the ICC, she pointed out, but this did not prevent the international community from prosecuting those in power for war crimes they committed.
Another solution was proffered by South African law professor John Dugard, formerly the U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. “The U.N. Security Council could refer the situation [assault on Gaza] to the ICC as it did in the case of Darfur,” he suggested, although he admitted that “this is unlikely, as such a move would certainly be vetoed by the United States.”
Certainly a U.S. veto or move to protect Israel remains a strong possibility, given Washington’s history of vetoing Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli aggression against neighboring states or illegally occupied territories. Moreover, the mainstream American media rarely report on the deaths of American citizens such as Rachel Corrie at the hands of Israel’s military occupiers, much less on the lives of Palestinians wounded and killed. Amira’s story, despite its potential impact on U.S. foreign policy, is no exception.
Nevertheless, many people hope that this teenager’s nonviolent search for justice finally will tip the scales of justice in favor of peace and reconciliation. And Amira herself remains undeterred.
“I am doing this for all the children of Gaza,” she told the court. “I want to do something to change the situation.”
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