Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ibrahim Khreisheh, Palestinian representative to the UN Human Rights Council, on war crimes and international law

I'd never heard of Ibrahim Khreisheh, who is apparently the Palestinian Authority's representative to the UNHRC (and a long-time PLO official). And, to be frank, the UN "Human Rights" Council is not always a body worth taking seriously. But these public statements by Khreisheh in an Arabic-language TV interview on July 9 (recorded and translated by MEMRI) constitute a remarkably serious, honest, and principled invocation of the demands of international human rights law and the laws of war. Khreisheh seems to take those principles seriously, and he poses a challenge to Palestinians, to Israelis, and to the rest of us to take them seriously, too.

(Ambassadors don't usually talk turkey like this, especially on TV, and especially in the middle of a war. Khreisheh seems to be a person of unusual integrity, self-confidence, and moral seriousness. Of course, one must remember that he is a representative of the Palestinian Authority, not of Hamas. And in the present context it may be relevant that senior figures in the PA leadership, including Mahmoud Abbas, have made it clear that they consider the current missile barrage by Hamas against Israel to be a strategy with genuinely catastrophic political consequences both for the Palestinian cause in general and for the PA in particular.)

TV Interviewer: The popular demand is to appeal to the International Criminal Court, and to sign the Rome Statute. The demand is to do this immediately. To what extent is this realistic? You are our representative in all the international organizations. What can we gain from such a step, and could we ourselves be indicted?

Ibrahim Khreisheh: I am not a candidate in any Palestinian elections, so I don't need to win popularity among the Palestinians. The missiles that are now being launched against Israel – each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or it misses, because it is directed at civilian targets. What Israel does against Palestinian civilians also constitutes crimes against humanity. OK? With regard to crimes of war under the Fourth Geneva Convention - the settlements, the Judaization, the checkpoints, the arrests, and so on – we find ourselves on very solid ground.  [JW: Sounds plausible to me.]  However, there is a Palestinian weakness with regard to the other issue. Therefore, targeting civilians – be it one civilian or a thousand - is considered a crime against humanity.

Interviewer: That is why Israel resorted to an attack against Gaza ...

Ibrahim Khreisheh: Appealing to the ICC requires a consensus, in writing, by all Palestinian factions, so when a Palestinian is arrested for his involvement in the killing of an Israeli civilian, we will not be blamed for extraditing him. Please note that many of our people in Gaza appeared on TV and said that the Israeli army warned them to evacuate their homes before the bombardment. In such a case, if someone is killed, the law considers it a mistake rather than an intentional killing. because (the Israelis) followed the legal procedures. As for the missiles launched from our side ... We never warn anyone about where these missiles are about to fall, or about the operations we carry out. Therefore, people should know more before they talk emotionally about appealing to the ICC.

—Jeff Weintraub