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How is Israel responding to the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants?


How does Israel respond to a move by the International Criminal Court? The court's chief prosecutor says he will seek arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and leaders of Israel, including the prime minister and defense minister. Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer, joins us now. He's also part of Israel's war cabinet. Minister Dermer, welcome back to the program.

RON DERMER: Good to be with you again, Steve.

INSKEEP: The former president of the ICC was on this program today, and we asked, why would you seek warrants against Israel? Why seek warrants for leaders of this democracy? And he said, quote, "no one is above the law." Would you agree with him up to that point?

DERMER: Certainly no one is above the law, including the prosecutor of the ICC because the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel, and it has no jurisdiction over any of these cases. I mean, the substance of the charges are completely false, but he also has no jurisdiction. And that's just not what Israel says. It's what every - nearly every serious European country has said. It's what the American State Department has said, because we're not signatories to it. And the Palestinians are not a state. You know, a lot of people are talking about, what should happen in a solution? Should they be a state or not a state? The ICC has regarded them a state in order to get jurisdiction and essentially to bring these war crimes charges against Israel.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about civilian casualties. I know there's a dispute about numbers. Israel has given its own numbers, acknowledged about 30,000 dead, about 14,000 believed to be Hamas fighters, 16,000 civilians. There are other counts, but this is Israel's counts - majority of civilians dead, 16,000. Was it impossible to avoid any of those casualties?

DERMER: Look, Steve, you've had experts on urban warfare, including the leading expert at West Point, including General Petraeus, that said no country has taken such great measures to keep the civilians of the enemy population out of harm's way. This is exactly what we've done. And the laws of war are very clear. You have to have distinction, you have to have proportionality and you have to give warning and precaution to get out of areas. That's exactly what Israel has done.

No country has operated, I think, and taken such great lengths to keep the civilians out of harm's way. So this charge is totally false. The other charge - that is the main charge of the case against us - is that we have a policy of starvation. Steve, you mentioned it at the beginning. I'm in the war cabinet. We do not have such a policy. We've never had such a policy.

INSKEEP: Although you do have a policy...

DERMER: And the fear that's...

INSKEEP: ...Of closing border crossings and keeping supplies from going into Gaza, don't you?

DERMER: No, no, no.

INSKEEP: I mean, the crossings are closed.

DERMER: We have actually put in a half a million tons - it's not been the policy. The policy is to ensure from the beginning that Gazans would have their basic humanitarian needs met. That is international law, and we have comported with international law from the beginning. We have had 20,000 trucks move into Gaza. We have paved roads and open passages to get more trucks into Gaza. You know who has not done that? Hamas has actually attacked the border crossings.

They did it a couple of weeks ago, right after the American Secretary of State was here. They're stealing the aid. Israel is pushing the aid in. They're stealing the aid, and we're the ones that are being hit by these war crimes charges. It's absurd. They've created this false equivalence between Israel and Hamas which will be bad enough. It's like taking FDR and Hitler or President Bush and Osama bin Laden. You know, both of them are wrong. That's bad enough...

INSKEEP: And you're correct.

DERMER: ...But the charges themselves - it's important for your listeners to understand, Steve - the charges are utterly false. We have never had a policy of starving the population.


DERMER: It is simply not true. And instead of coming here...

INSKEEP: I'm going to quickly move onto the next point here because...

DERMER: Instead of coming here...

INSKEEP: Minister Dermer, if I can - forgive me - I want to be sure that we have time to get a couple of questions on the table here. You mentioned earlier that you have warned civilians to move out of certain areas, and that is true that you have issued such warnings. But then you've moved into those areas. In fact, Israeli troops now are moving into parts of Rafah, which is where people had taken shelter. Does Israel take responsibility for civilian lives in Rafah, the more than a million people who are there now?

DERMER: We do everything to avoid civilian casualties. There's not more than a million people. You got to get updated on your show. Nine hundred and fifty thousand people have already left Rafah because we put evacuation orders in. Most armies that are trying to target civilians don't drop millions of leaflets and make phone calls to get people out of harm's way. You have cases of tragedies in warfare. You remember the case of three of our hostages came out, and they were accidentally fired upon by our own troops. You have those cases. We have lost dozens of soldiers because of friendly fire. That's unfortunately the tragedy of warfare.

But Israel has gone to lengths that no other army has to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm's way. And for them to bring these charges, for the prosecutor - which is effectively a rogue prosecutor because he doesn't have jurisdiction, which I think is something that the White House and the State Department made clear - for him to bring these - this case against Israel is really outrageous and dangerous. And that's why this...

INSKEEP: One very quick question if I can, Minister Dermer.

DERMER: ...Was not only outrageous but...

INSKEEP: If the warrants are issued because a judge - a panel of judges still has to rule on this. If the warrants are issued, will Israel press countries to disregard them and allow your officials to travel?

DERMER: Well, of course. And I - obviously, I think the United States, Britain, Germany and other countries should disregard it. I hope that the judges don't make that decision and don't essentially undermine the credibility of the ICC because it will be seen as a kangaroo court.

INSKEEP: Ron Dermer is Israel's minister of strategic affairs. Thank you for taking the time, sir.

DERMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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