Four Palestinian human rights groups have submitted a 700-page communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC), alleging that high-level Israeli officials have been complicit in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In a statement on Wednesday, the groups urged the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to “urgently open a full investigation into the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory” as a “necessary step to ending the culture of impunity that has long prevailed in regard to Israeli crimes and to hold high-level political and military officials accountable”.
The groups that submitted the dossier are al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Aldameer Association for Human Rights – all based in the occupied territories.
“This communication, which is based on factual information collected by the four organisations, covers the following crimes against humanity in accordance with the Rome Statute: murder, deportation or transfer of population, persecution, apartheid,” an al-Haq representative told Al Jazeera.
The representative also said the files included evidence of war crimes such as “willful killing, extensive destruction and appropriation of property, unlawful deportation or transfer, transfer by the occupying power of its civilian population into occupied territory, pillaging of a town/place, destroying or seizing the enemy’s property”.
The ICC, an independent international court based in The Hague, Netherlands, confirmed to Al Jazeera that they had received the dossier.
“As we do with all such communications, we will analyse the materials submitted, as appropriate, in accordance with the Rome Statute and with full independence and impartiality. As soon as we reach a decision on the appropriate next step, we will inform the sender and provide reasons for our decision,” the Office of the Prosecutor told Al Jazeera via email.
While Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute – the treaty of the ICC to which all members are bound to – its nationals could be tried by The Hague-based court for crimes committed on Palestinian territory.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
The four Palestinian groups have jointly submitted three other communications – mainly related to war crimes in the Gaza Strip – to the ICC since the State of Palestine formally joined the court in April 2015, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory since June 13, 2014.
The 2014 Israeli war on Gaza is the first major offensive against Palestinians over which the ICC has potential jurisdiction. During the 51-day war, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, 500 of whom were children.
The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor began its preliminary examination of the “situation in Palestine” in January 2015. In this phase, the prosecutor is meant to determine whether the criteria have been met to warrant pursuing a formal investigation based on the information available publicly or submitted to the office and whether local courts are carrying out credible investigations.
But rights groups have urged the ICC to launch a full investigation due to the “strong evidence” of war crimes being committed.
“The transfer of Israeli settlers into the occupied Palestinian territory constitutes a unique war crime in that it is coupled with the confiscation of massive tracts of Palestinian land,” Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said in the statement, referring to Israel’s settlement project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Since 1967, Israel’s government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli citizens into the occupied Palestinian territories. They live in illegal, fortified settlements – the largest of which houses some 64,000 Israelis – which are often built on Palestinian land seized by Israel.
An occupying power is forbidden from transferring parts of its civilian population into the territory which it occupies, according to the fourth agreement of the Geneva Conventions, which defines humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone.
There are several reasons behind this: to ensure that the occupation is temporary and to prevent the occupying state from establishing a long-term presence through military rule; to protect the occupied civilians from theft of resources, and to prevent apartheid and changes in the demographic makeup of the territory.
“Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank is evidently one of colonisation,” said Sourani. “The international community long ago decided that colonisation is reprehensible and with the Rome Statute it is punishable through the crime of settler transfer.”
In a 2016 report, US-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) requested the ICC to open a formal probe as the occupation entered its 50th year, drawing on the “unlawful attacks” carried out by both sides during the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, and on the continuous expansion of illegal settlements.
“Settlements are a war crime, and clearly there have been no efforts undertaken in Israel to look into responsibility and hold people accountable,” Omar Shakir, Israel/Palestine director for HRW, told Al Jazeera.
“In Gaza, the military has opened some investigations, but of course, until today, there has only been three soldiers held to account, and they are all very minor offences unrelated to the underlying attacks,” he added.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has also submitted evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes to the prosecutor’s office. When the PA applied to join the ICC, the Israeli government responded by stopping the transfer of millions of dollars in tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
“Given that the authorities on the ground have been unwilling to credibly investigate … makes it urgent that the prosecutor’s office moves this to a formal investigation and takes steps to ensure that those that commit serious abuses in Palestine are held to account for their actions,” said Shakir.