Arms Embargo and Sanctions Can Hold Israeli & Hamas Leaders Accountable for War Crimes

Interview with Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of National Lawyers Guild, conducted by Scott Harris

Tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 8, demonstrating their opposition to President Biden’s handling of Israel’s war in Gaza which has over the past 8 months killed more than 37,000 Palestinians.  Hundreds of participants formed a two-mile long human chain carrying a continuous strip of red fabric symbolizing the “red line” that Biden had earlier declared regarding his opposition to a planned Israeli attack on the southern Gaza city of Rafah crowded with over 1.5 million Palestinian refugees.

Despite Biden’s warning, Israel launched its offensive on Rafah on May 7, seizing control of Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt and cutting off a vital route for humanitarian aid desperately needed by more than a million Palestinians on the brink of starvation. On May 27, Israeli forces bombed a tent encampment in Rafah killing 45 mostly women and children and injuring more than 200 others. During an IDF military operation in the densely-populated central Gaza Nuseirat refugee camp that freed 4 Israeli hostages held by Hamas on June 8, 274 Palestinians were killed, with some 698 others wounded.

In an effort to prevent further harm to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice (or ICJ), had issued a ruling on May 24 calling on Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah, an order that Israel ignored.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild, who examines the role of the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court in holding both Israeli and Hamas leaders accountable for the war crimes committed by both sides in the war in Gaza.

MARJORIE COHN: Well, it was Israel’s assault on Rafah that actually propelled the International Court of Justice to issue this preliminary order on May 24th and the court called on Israel to immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah Governorate which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

And the court also ordered Israel to keep the Rafah crossing open and allow U.N. investigative commissions and other investigators to enter Gaza and investigate allegations of genocide.

SCOTT HARRIS: So the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, as well as Hamas officials responsible for the group’s Oct. 7th attack on Israel that killed 1200 Israelis and kidnapped 240 hostages brought back to Gaza, which the IDF is trying to free with these bombing raids that have killed an overwhelming number of Palestinian civilians.

Tell us about the significance of the International Criminal Court’s warrant for the leaders of Israel, as well as Hamas.

MARJORIE COHN: The arrest warrants that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has asked the court to issue for Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, the two top Israeli leaders — of course, Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel and you have Gallant as a defense minister. The chief prosecutor of the ICC International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, is asking for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He’s asking for arrest warrants for the war crimes of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, willful killing and murder, willfully causing great suffering or serious bodily injury and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population. Khan is asking for arrest warrants also against Netanyahu and Gallant for the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, persecution and other inhumane acts. And he’s also asking for arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders, Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab, Ibrahim al-Masri and Ismail Haniyeh for the war crimes of taking hostages, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity.

And Khan is asking for arrest warrants against the three Hamas leaders for the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape and other sexual violence, torture and other inhumane acts. And by the way, he’s been dragging his feet for a long time, ever since he came into office. And his predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, after a five-year preliminary examination, found a reasonable basis to believe that Israeli leaders and Hamas were engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the court basically dragged its feet for two more years. And it wasn’t until the genocide, which is ubiquitous, it’s transparent. And the Rafah attack, the rocket tent massacre, I call it in this piece, but the ongoing genocide spurred Karim Khan to bring this request for these charges against these Israeli and Hamas leaders. Netanyahu responded to Khan’s request for arrest warrants for him and Gallant “as a moral outrage of historic proportions and a travesty of justice that sets a dangerous precedent and flies in the face of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Joe Biden blasted Khan’s actions against the two Israeli leaders, calling it outrageous. Biden also said there is no equivalence, none between Israel and Hamas.

SCOTT HARRIS: With it being unlikely that Israeli leaders or Hamas leaders are going to be appearing in a court as a defendant in these war crimes cases, what’s the importance of sanctions in an arms embargo on this current war and carnage in Gaza?

MARJORIE COHN: If there was an arms embargo and it was enforceable, the U.S. supplies most of the weapons for Israel’s genocide, but other countries do as well. Germany is the second largest supplier of weapons to Israel. If the countries really did honor an arms embargo, if it was called for internationally and they honored it, that would put a crimp in Israel’s continuing genocidal campaign. And sanctions against Israel would also punish Israel for what they’re doing there.

Another thing that people can do, and it’s really important, is to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS. Go to and there are many products that benefit the Israeli economy that are being boycotted. There is divestment from corporations that have investments in Israel and it has been so successful since it’s a nonviolent program by Palestinian civil society.

It was initiated in 2005, and it’s been so effective that Netanyahu called it an existential threat to Israel.

So that’s something that people can actually do in addition to writing to Congress members, to the White House, to the State Department and exercising their First Amendment rights to protest.

Read Marjorie Cohn’s essay, “Following International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Court (ICC) Actions, Sanctions and Arms Embargo Are Crucial Next Steps.”

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Marjorie Cohn (16:51) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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