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International Tribunal to Save Israel and Palestinians

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By Ilan Ziv and Daoud Kuttab

For over twenty years we have worked together documenting the struggle between our peoples with the goal of saving our humanity, with the belief in the sanctity of life and the power of the rule of law. If we have learned anything in our years of work on the ground in Palestine, Israel and around the world, it is that our two peoples are incapable of solving our conflict by ourselves. We have also come to the strong belief that the US acting in a biased fashion has failed to be the impartial and honest broker it has claimed it will be. Instead we truly believe that there is an international body, yet to be established, that can save Israel, the Palestinians and indeed the region from this process of self destruction which has been spiraling out of control.

In 2001 in the height of the Second Intifada and in midst of the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign, and Israeli incursions, we published a joint article calling for an international war tribunal. In this article we concluded that Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a deadly embrace from which neither side can extricate itself. Neither society, we argued, is capable of producing the forces of change that could alter this deadly course. Both societies ,we wrote, are locked in their own concept of victimhood and self justification, while extremists on both sides are feeding off each other. Each convulsion of violence narrows further the space for dialogue and compromise, marginalizing internal opposition.

This was not an academic observation. It grew out of our own experience. For years we collaborated on a Palestinian/Israeli self documentation project where cameras were given to ordinary Palestinians and Israelis from all walks of life to record the impact of momentous political events on their lives. In "Palestinian Diaries," cameras were given to young Palestinians to record their experience of the first Intifada. We expanded the project after the signing of the Oslo accords to include six Israelis as well. We called it at the time "Peace Diaries." Yet while politicians spoke about peace, the material that came from villages, refugee camps and settlements showed the brewing of a new war.

Although our ways parted for some time, we have both been involved in focusing on issues of war crimes and the use of international instruments to hold people and governments accountable. Ilan has documented war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Daoud contributed to and produced two editions of the Arabic version of the multi language book "Crimes of War-What the Public Should Know." Our work convinced us that only the creation of a special tribunal like those which were established during the war in the former Yugoslavia and after the massacre in Rwanda , will create an international body with a moral authority to hold a mirror in front of both societies. Only such a tribunal could sift through partisan rhetoric and claims of victimhood. The importance of such a court will be far more than enforcing international law. As in the Balkan, we believe, it will help to contain the conflict and force political changes.

In 2001 we never imagined the war in Gaza eight years later with its frightening human toll of hundreds of children and women dead or wounded. Hamas is accused of firing rockets into Israeli civilian locations but who could have imagined the response: as many as 200,000 internal refugees (estimated by human rights groups), the massive destruction of infrastructure and homes, the disproportional use of force and the attacks on UN facilities (even while the secretary general was meeting with Israeli officials).

This time there is a growing chorus calling for an international investigation into whether both sides committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Though we whole heartedly support those calls, we know that the impact of such investigations in the past has been limited. Israel is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court in the Hague (neither is Hamas), therefore any attempt to bring the case to the Hague is bound to fail. The only choice, we believe, is the establishment of a special tribunal based on the legal precedents created in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. There are many obstacles to the establishment of such a court by the Security Council. However according to Prof. Richard Falk, the UN rapporteur on the human rights in the Palestinian territories, the court can be established by the General Assembly as well.

We believe that the cause of such a tribunal should be adopted by the hundreds of non governmental organizations recognized by the United Nations. They could put pressure on the members states to adopt such a resolution. At stake are not only the crimes committed yesterday but the future disasters that will be born out of the ruins of Gaza. As we peer into the abyss, we believe that the establishment of a War Crime Tribunal needs to be supported both by Israel's friends as well as by supporters of Palestine. It is the only international mechanism that can save Israel from itself and save the Palestinians and the region from a looming catastrophe.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist who lives in Jerusalem and Amman. Ilan Ziv is an Israeli documentary filmmaker living in New York City and director of Tamouz Media.