The International Criminal Court Seeks Arrest Warrants for Leaders of Israel and Hamas

Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced on May 20 that he has applied for arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza. A panel of judges will now consider Khan’s application for warrants for Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip; Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas; Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.1

What Is the International Criminal Court?

The ICC is a criminal court located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, which brings cases against individuals for charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. It operates independently of other international organizations, such as the United Nations, and is separate from the UN International Court of Justice.2

The ICC was founded in 1998 by a treaty and entered into force in 2002. As of 2024, 124 countries are members of the court; Palestine is recognized as a member, but Israel, as well as the United States, Russia, China, and others, are not.3 If the ICC grants Khan’s application and issues arrest warrants for any of the five men, any country that is a member would have to arrest them and extradite them to The Hague.4

The ICC currently has arrest warrants for world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, for leading the invasion of Ukraine, and former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, for directing a campaign of mass killing and rape in the Darfur region.5

What Are the Charges?

The charges against Sinwar, Haniyeh, and al-Masri include “extermination, murder, taking of hostages, rape, and sexual assault in detention.” Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 people and took at least 245 hostages in the October 7 attack on Israel. The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict.” When announcing the application, Khan said, “The fact that Hamas fighters need water doesn’t justify denying water from all the civilian population of Gaza.” The Ministry of Health in Gaza estimates that more than 35,500 Palestinians have been killed and more than 79,000 have been wounded in Gaza since October 7, but outside organizations have not been able to confirm those numbers.6

How Have World Leaders Responded?

Both Israeli and Hamas leaders have condemned Khan’s application. Netanyahu said the action was meant to target all of Israel. “I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” he said. Hamas said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the attempts of the ICC Prosecutor to equate victims with aggressors by issuing arrest warrants against a number of Palestinian resistance leaders without legal basis.”7

In the United States, President Joe Biden issued a statement in defense of Israel. “Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas,” he said. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”8

Congressional Republicans have also condemned the ICC’s arrest warrants. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the chamber may vote on sanctions against the ICC for seeking an arrest warrant against Netanyahu.9 Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), leader of the House Republican Conference, said, “The ICC is an illegitimate court that equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide.”10

Not all Democrats agree with President Biden, however. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement, “The ICC prosecutor is right to take these actions. These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law. Without these standards of decency and morality, this planet may rapidly descend into anarchy, never-ending wars, and barbarism.”11 Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said, “If Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant.”

International rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released statements in favor of the ICC’s actions.12 Support is split in Europe, with leaders in France, Germany, and Belgium affirming the actions of the ICC and those of the United Kingdom and Czech Republic issuing press releases against the prosecutor’s inclusion of Israel with Hamas. The United States’ neighbor, Mexico, supports an investigation by the ICC.13 As of May 21, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not released a statement about the action.14

What Happens Next?

The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber will assess whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused have committed a crime within the ICC’s jurisdiction. In past cases, the Pre-Trial Chamber has taken several months to decide whether to issue a warrant, and security experts expect the same for this case. The ICC does not have its own police force; therefore, it must rely on member countries to enforce the arrest warrants that it issues or the suspect to present themselves to the ICC voluntarily.15

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the ICC’s decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders? Explain your reasoning.
  2. If arrest warrants are issued, do you think the United States should help enforce them? Why or why not?
  3. If a world leader commits atrocities, how should we hold them accountable?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Piroschka Van De Wouw, Reuters
[1] Statement of ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC:
[2] International Criminal Court:
[3] United Nations:
[4] New York Times:,known%20as%20the%20Rome%20Statute
[5] Just Security:
[6] CNN:
[7] Reuters:
[8] Washington Post:
[9] Axios:
[10] The Hill:
[11] Senator Bernie Sanders:
[12] Amnesty International:; Human Rights Watch:
[13] Reuters:
[14] CTV News:
[15] Just Security:

Gun Violence & Public Health

In September 2023, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) declared gun violence in Albuquerque and the surrounding Bernalillo County a public health emergency, mirroring similar declarations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration was accompanied by the immediate imposition of a 30-day ban on carrying firearms in public areas and state-owned property in the region. Gov. Lujan Grisham defended the move as a necessary step in protecting children; gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

The move was met by criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in New Mexico, a state with relatively few prohibitions on firearm possession and carry. Several days after the emergency declaration, gun rights organizations filed lawsuits resulting in a judge temporarily preventing the new rules’ enforcement. Gov. Lujan Grisham narrowed the emergency measures to only temporarily prohibiting the carrying of firearms in Albuquerque-area public parks and playgrounds, a move which resulted in a federal judge allowing the rule to become effective in October.

Gun rights groups, such as the National Association for Gun Rights, and individuals filed lawsuits against the emergency declarations as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs and political critics of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s move have cited both the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen (2022). The Bruen case introduced a new way state regulations on firearm carry will be tested for constitutionality, limiting what both existing and new regulations can prohibit. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) also voiced opposition to the rules as unconstitutional, though he stated he wanted stricter gun control. Opposition to the new rules, including the revised declaration prohibiting carry in only public parks and playgrounds, also reflects sentiment that the regulations prevent citizens from carrying a firearm for self-defense.

However, in the post-COVID environment, gun violence—particularly gun violence against children—has been increasingly treated as a public health crisis. Researchers at Tulane and Johns Hopkins Universities have studied this possible approach, and research released in 2023 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions recognized broad support for gun violence and public health solutions. Support was found among 61.8 percent of gun owners and 54.4 percent of Republicans for publicly funded programs that include conflict mediation and other social services. The researchers’ recommendations also emphasized restricting public carry of firearms, which they considered a primary impact of gun violence.

Tulane’s research noted that certain gun control measures—such as expanding prohibitions on firearm purchases by domestic abusers—may have a significant impact. The research also identified approaches unrelated to gun control measures that could reduce gun violence, such as beautification programs that develop vacant properties and improve societal wellness. Tulane’s research praised Advanced Peace, a California organization that practices violence interruption. Violence interruption is a set of practices that prevent cyclical violence by focusing on expanding community resources for individuals at heightened risk of perpetrating gun violence.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is gun violence an issue in your community? Does this issue impact you and people you care about? How? 
  2. Is gun violence an issue that should be addressed by changes to laws and regulatory policies? Why or why not? 
  3. Do you believe gun violence should be treated as a public health concern? Why or why not? What is the most compelling argument against your position?
  4. If gun violence is treated as a public health concern, should public policies emphasize gun control (e.g. restrictions on gun ownership) or community reform? 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 



Featured Image Credit: Boston University’s School of Public Health
Tulane University: Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue
National Public Radio: One Way to Prevent Gun Violence? Treat It As a Public Health Issue
Johns Hopkins University: Center for Gun Violence Solutions
National Public Radio: Some Big Health Care Policy Changes Are Hiding In The Federal Spending Package
Scientific American: Gun Violence Is an Epidemic; Health Systems Must Step Up


The 13th Amendment, Crime Legislation, and America’s High Incarceration Rate

Today, 25 percent of the world’s documented prison population is incarcerated in the United States. Despite America being the land of the free, there are more recorded prisoners here than in any other country: 2,068,800.

So, how did the United States get here? Over the last 40 years, numerous factors have contributed to the dramatic increase in the prison population. President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. Ensuing legislation, such as the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, contributed to a rapid increase in the U.S prison population. Years earlier, even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution contributed to the growth of the prison population.

The 13th Amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Some refer to this clause as the criminal-exception loophole, which allowed the economic benefits of slavery to continue by prosecuting and imprisoning Black Americans for petty, ill-defined crimes such as vagrancy.

After the Civil War, Southerners struggled with the sudden lack of free labor and the economy began to deteriorate. To offset that stress, some states began the practice of convict leasing and enforcing Black Codes. This allowed prisoners to be leased out for their labor to those who paid small leasing fees to the government. Because Black Codes criminalized freed slaves for frivolous reasons such as lack of employment, lack of housing, or participating in business other than husbandry, there was quickly a plethora of laborers to lease out.1

This loophole introduced long-term consequences that are still catching up with us today. The effects of the 13th Amendment and current laws continue to allow convicted felons to be compelled to work without pay. And some legislators regard the U.S.’s highest incarceration rate as a pressing current issue.

How Citizens Feel About Our High Incarceration Rate in America

In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Campaign for Smart Justice conducted a public poll to gain a greater understanding of how individuals view the high incarceration rate in America. Of those polled, 71 percent agreed that it is important to reduce America’s prison population. That 71 percent included 87 percent of Democrat respondents, 67 percent of independent respondents, and 57 percent of Republican respondents. The poll found that 68 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for an elected official who supports reducing the prison population, and that 71 percent believe incarceration is counterproductive to public safety. Other studies and polls show similar results that liberals, conservatives, and moderates, for the most part, find some agreement on the high incarceration rate in America as a current issue.2

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) discuss sentencing reform and reducing rates of incarceration:

What Are Some Possible Solutions?

One proposed approach to reducing the incarceration rate is to begin back-pedaling on some laws passed with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the 1994 Crime Bill. President Donald Trump signed into law the First Step Act of 2018, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. The main goals of the law were sentencing and prison reform. The law gave sentencing power back to judges by allowing them to reduce sentences below the statutory minimum; offenders who were sentenced for crack-cocaine-related charges prior to 2010 were automatically allowed to apply for resentencing. There were also a multitude of reforms to how corrections officials treat prisoners and certain aspects of how the Department of Justice and attorney general interact with the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Corrections to make living and labor conditions better for inmates.

READ: “Criminal Justice Reform: The First Step Act” on the Current Issues Blog

Another prospective solution is to amend the Constitution. In 2020, congressional Democrats proposed legislation to add an amendment to the Constitution that would eliminate the language that permits slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment and make them unconstitutional under any conditions. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) argued for the bill’s passage, saying that the 13th Amendment “continued the process of a white power class gravely mistreating Black Americans, creating generations of poverty, the breakup of families, and this wave of mass incarceration that we still wrestle with today.” Former Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said such a change to the Constitution would “finish the job that President Lincoln started.”4

Although this constitutional amendment did not pass, some states are passing similar legislation to amend their own constitutions. In 2018, Colorado put a measure on the state ballot to remove the language permitting slavery from the state constitution and became the first state to do so since the 19th century. Two years later in 2020, Nebraska and Utah passed similar legislation by ballot. Then, in 2022, voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont officially made all forms of slavery illegal in their states.5

Supporters of these amendments argue that they will help rid America of modern-day forced labor in the prison system. Most prisoners are made to work during their incarceration. For example, much prison maintenance and upkeep is done by prisoners for $1 per hour or less. Activists say that compelling prisoners to work for such little money is synonymous with involuntary servitude, and they argue that passage of these amendments could balance morality scales and give prisoners more opportunity to save money to support themselves upon their release, thereby reducing recidivism rates and keeping communities safer.

Opponents, however, see a different view. They point out that allowing prisoners to collect higher wages would be difficult and expensive. For example, the California Department of Finance has estimated that it could cost $1.5 billion to pay prisoners the minimum wage. Opponents believe that such a move would reduce the beneficial impacts of certain prison programs that allow inmates to acquire job training and skills while working for no pay—programs that can assist them in having a more successful reentry to society.6

Discussion Questions

  1. How high a priority issue, if at all, do you think the high incarceration rate in the United States is? Explain your reasoning.
  2. What would be some benefits of taking steps toward reducing the incarceration rate? What would be some drawbacks?
  3. Do you think the criminal-exception loophole allows slavery and involuntary servitude to exist today? If so, how? If not, why not?
  4. When it comes to prison labor, do you believe inmates should have a choice to work or should they be compelled to work? Do you think they should be paid more to work or not? Explain your reasoning.
  5. Of the proposed policies mentioned above (or another that you have heard of), which do you believe would have the greatest impact on reducing the incarceration rate?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

Close Up is proud to be the nation’s leading nonprofit civic education organization, working with schools and districts across the country since 1971. If you would like to partner with us or learn more about our experiential learning programs, professional development, or curriculum design and consulting, contact us today! 


Featured Image Credit: Cornell Chapter of Amnesty International