News Digest — 3/4/21

International Criminal Court Announces Official Probe Against Israel

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced Wednesday (3rd) she has launched an investigation into Israeli conduct in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, despite many scholars doubting the body can do so.

The decision comes following a recent interpretation of the Rome Statute that Israeli action in the Palestinian Authority can be investigated despite the PA not being recognized as a state and Israel not being a signatory.

Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that the probe will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor.”

Bensouda said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip.  Following that assessment, she asked judges to rule on the extent of the court’s jurisdiction in the troubled region.

They did so in January, saying that the court’s jurisdiction extends to areas held by Israel since 1967.

The PA welcomed the decision.  “This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve,” the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Palestinians joined the court in 2015 and they have pushed for an investigation of Israel, which is not a member of the court.  The Palestinians asked the court to probe Israeli actions during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 as well as Israel’s construction of settlements.

In the past, Israeli officials have accused the court of overstepping its bounds, saying the Palestinians are not an independent sovereign state.  Officials say that Israel has been unfairly singled out and reject the allegations.  They say military actions in Gaza were acts of self-defense following persistent terrorist attacks.

The investigation will likely also look into alleged crimes by Palestinian groups.  Bensouda has said her probe would look into the actions of Hamas, which fired rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the 2014 war.

Bensouda said how prosecutors prioritize their work will be “determined in due time” based on constraints including the coronavirus pandemic, limited resources and their existing heavy workload.

“Such challenges, however, as daunting and complex as they are, cannot divert us from ultimately discharging the responsibilities that the Rome Statute places upon the Office,” she said, referring to the court’s founding treaty.



‘Undiluted Anti-Semitism:’ Netanyahu Outraged At ICC For Investigating Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday (3rd) that it would investigate Israel for war crimes.

“The decision of the International Court to open an investigation against Israel for war crimes is absurd.  It’s undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy,” he said in a video statement, Wednesday (3rd).

Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC announced Wednesday (3rd) that the court would initiate “an investigation respecting the situation in Palestine.”

Netanyahu responded, “Without any jurisdiction, it decided that our brave soldiers who take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties against the worst terrorists in the world who deliberately target civilians – it decided our soldiers are war criminals.”

Netanyahu referred to the legal controversy over whether the court has jurisdiction to investigate Israel given the country is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.  Only signatories fall under the court’s jurisdiction.

It has also been pointed out that the court supposedly deals with states, and while the court repeatedly mentions “Palestine” in its statement, there is no such thing as a state of “Palestine,” only a Palestinian Authority (PA).

Netanyahu also took issue with the ICC treating the construction of settlements in certain parts of Jerusalem as a war crime.  He said, “They say that when we build a house in our eternal capital of Jerusalem, that too is a war crime, even though it’s been our capital for 3,000 years.

Netanyahu addressed the irony that the “intentions of the court’s founders” were quite different from its recent actions.

“This court that was established to prevent the repetition of the Nazi horrific crimes committed against the Jewish people, is now turning its guns against the one and only state of the Jewish people.  It’s targeting Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.  But of course it turns a blind eye to Iran, Syria and the other dictatorships that are committing real war crimes left and right.” Netanyahu said.

“We will never stop fighting this injustice.  We will speak the truth in every forum, in every country, on every stage until this outrageous decision is reversed and becomes null and void.”



Israeli Air Defense System Proves Itself First Time Against Russian Missile

Azerbaijan’s armed forces successfully shot down a Russian ballistic missile last fall in what appears to be the first documented evidence of an Israeli air defense missile being used against that kind of Russian military hardware, Channel 20 News reported Tuesday (2nd).

During the latest round of fighting last fall between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Armenians launched at least one Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile that was intercepted as it headed towards the Azerbaijan capital city of Baku, the report said.

The Iskander missile, which can carry up to 1,500 pounds of high explosives, was stopped by a Barak-8 (“lightning”) air-defense missile.

The Barak-8, a joint development of Israel and India, is designed to be used against a variety of platforms, from anti-ship missiles to helicopters and planes.  The missile is in use on Israel’s Saar 5 warships.

Azerbaijan has close ties with Israel and in 2018 acquired 12 Barak-8 launchers with 75 surface-to-air missiles for them.

Despite Azerbaijan’s controversial record on freedoms and  human rights, Israel maintains close ties with the Asian nation that considers itself an ally to both neighboring Iran and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Baku in 2016.

Surmising why Armenia, outmatched on the battlefield, used the Russian missile, Director of Defense Research at The Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul, Can Kasapoglu, told Middle East Eye, that it may have “tried to target Baku with an Iskander as a last resort to put pressure on Azerbaijan for a ceasefire.”

“The use of Iskander matches with Armenia’s intra-war deterrence efforts as they were overwhelmed by Azerbaijani technological superiority in the battleground,” Kasapoglu said.



Israel’s Sheba Named Among Top 10 Hospitals In The World

Israel’s largest hospital has been ranked No. 10 on the “World’s Best Hospitals 2021” list published by Newsweek magazine.

The listing, which was revealed on Wednesday (3rd), is determined by the magazine in collaboration with market and consumer data company Statista.

This is the third year that Sheba Medical Center made the list – last year, it was No. 9.

“As the events of 2020 made clear, our lives and those of our loved ones may rest on the kind of healthcare we have access to,” Newsweek’s global editor-in-chief Nancy Cooper wrote in the introduction to the list.

“The 2,000 hospitals named in this list – which covers 25 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada – stand out for their consistent excellence, including distinguished physicians, top-notch nursing care and state-of-the-art technology.”

A release by Sheba said the hospital believes it was included in the list because of its superior healthcare, its drive toward medical innovation and cutting-edge research.

Sheba was the first hospital in Israel to open a coronavirus ward during the crisis and to leverage telemedicine to interact with infected patients.  The hospital, located in Tel Hashomer, includes 11 of Israel’s national health centers, four hospitals, cancer and heart institutes and 159 medical departments and clinics.

“To be nominated and ranked among the Top 10 World’s Best Hospitals for three consecutive years underscores Israel’s image as a small country with world-class medicine and what we call Sheba Global Impact,” said CEO Prof. Yitshak Kreiss.

“This honor is also a testament to our dedicated staff, which has worked tirelessly to utilize cutting-edge medical treatments, treating patients from all walks of life during these challenging times and offering hope without boundaries.”

The top three hospitals this year are the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; the Cleveland Clinic; and Massachusetts General Hospital – all in the United States.  

The full list of top hospitals is available on the Newsweek website.



‘I’ve Lost Count’ Says Amsterdam Kosher Restaurant Owner After Latest Anti-Semitic Vandalism

The owner of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam said this week that he has lost count of the times his establishment has been vandalized in recent years after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on its windows.

An anti-Semitic slogan was scrawled onto the window of the HaCarmel eatery in the Dutch capital.  The restaurant’s owner, Daniel Bar-On, told local news outlets that he could no longer keep track of the number of attacks on his property by anti-Semites.

“I’ve lost count,” Bar-On said.  “There are many restaurants owned by different nationalities along this street, but we are the only one subjected to these kinds of incidents.

Last year, the restaurant was the target of a second attack by the same Syrian migrant after he was found by a judge to have diminished responsibility for his first attack.

The suspect was arrested at the scene and it was quickly discovered that he was the same man who smashed a window in 2017, stole an Israeli flag, and vandalized the restaurant with eggs and mayonnaise. 

Previous violent acts have included bomb threats, property damage and graffiti.

Meanwhile, the local council in the port city of Rotterdam has pledged to step up its fight against anti-Semitism.

More camera surveillance and more police patrols will be placed at the city’s Jewish institutions following the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery last month.

“The continuing hatred of the Jewish community is shocking,” local councilor Tanya Hoogwerf said in a media interview.  “The destruction of a Jewish cemetery, the final resting place of Jewish people, is only one in a series of incidents in our country.”

Hoogwerf added that “for years politicians have been falling all over themselves in an effort to speak out against anti-Semitism, while no effective measures have been taken.”