Gazans Say ICC Prosecutor’s Pursuit of Hamas Leaders Is Misguided

Palestinians in Gaza expressed mixed feelings after the chief prosecutor at the world’s top criminal court said he was seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Israel and Hamas on war crimes charges, a move that many said equated victim with perpetrator.

“We deplore, denounce and are surprised by the decision of the International Criminal Court which places the accused, the victim, and the executioner in one cage,” said Zahir Essam, a 55-year-old living in Gaza City.

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, announced on Monday his decision to apply for arrest warrants for Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza; Muhammad Deif, Hamas’s military chief; and Ismail Haniyeh, the movement’s Qatar-based top political official. He also said he would seek warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Israel.

The announcement in effect treated Israeli officials and Hamas leaders in the same way, despite what Mr. Essam sees as a power imbalance between the two sides in the conflict in Gaza, which began when Hamas led an attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

That attack killed about 1,200 people, and about 240 others were taken hostage, Israeli officials say. Israel’s retaliatory war in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health authorities, though their figures do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Many Palestinians view the Oct. 7 attack as a justified response to Israeli violations during the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

“The Palestinian people are defending their most basic human rights and fighting against an occupation and the harshest form of abuse,” Mr. Essam said in a phone interview. He added that he was surprised that the prosecutor would consider “those who defend their rights and their homeland” as equal to “those fighting them with an array of weapons and aircrafts.”

In Israel, the warrants drew the reverse response, with Mr. Netanyahu denouncing the prosecutor’s decision as a “distortion of reality” and defending the war in Gaza as one of self-defense. For now, the announcement is largely symbolic. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, and judges can take months to uphold requests for arrest warrants.

Jaber Yahia, a 50-year-old teacher from central Gaza, said that he was relieved by the naming of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gallant. “I was thinking, finally they will be brought to justice,” he said. But after hearing that warrants would also be sought for leaders of Hamas, his relief was muddied.

“We are under occupation and resistance is a legal right for us,” he said.

Nidal Kuhail, a 30-year-old waiter from Gaza City who was displaced to Rafah, said that he had hoped that the international community and its legal bodies, such as the court, would have first ordered a cease-fire to end the deadly Israeli bombardment.

“The first step was supposed to be a mandatory and immediate stop of the war,” Mr. Kuhail said in a phone interview. “And then bring Gallant and Netanyahu to trial because they committed war crimes documented with evidence,” he added.

Seeking warrants for Hamas leaders, by contrast, was “a wrong decision,” he said.

Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting from London.

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