International Court of Justice orders Israel to take steps to prevent Gaza death and destruction

International Court of Justice orders Israel to take steps to prevent Gaza death and destruction
Image Credit: CNN

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s top court, has issued a provisional ruling on the case brought by South Africa against Israel, accusing it of committing genocide in Gaza. The court ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent genocidal acts, to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and to report on its actions within a month. However, the court did not order a ceasefire, as South Africa had requested.

What is the case about?

  • South Africa filed the case in October 2023, invoking the 1948 Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
  • South Africa argued that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which began in response to Hamas’ attacks on southern Israel in October 2023, amounted to genocide against the Palestinians.
  • South Africa cited public statements by Israeli leaders and lawmakers, such as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called the Palestinians in Gaza “human animals” and vowed to impose a “complete siege” on the territory.
  • South Africa also presented evidence of the devastating impact of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which have killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, displaced nearly 85% of the population, and caused widespread starvation, disease, and destruction.
  • South Africa asked the court to order Israel to stop its military operations, to lift the blockade on Gaza, to release the hostages taken by Hamas, and to cooperate with an international investigation into the alleged genocide.

How did Israel respond?

  • Israel strongly denied the genocide allegation, calling it “baseless” and “politically motivated”.
  • Israel argued that it had the right to defend itself and its citizens from Hamas’ aggression, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took about 250 hostages back to Gaza.
  • Israel claimed that it had tried to avoid civilian casualties and to increase deliveries of humanitarian aid to Gaza, despite Hamas’ attempts to hinder them.
  • Israel also challenged the jurisdiction and impartiality of the court, accusing it of being biased against Israel and influenced by South Africa’s anti-Israel stance.
  • Israel said that the court should not interfere in the ongoing diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire and a lasting solution to the conflict.

What did the court decide?

  • The court issued a unanimous decision on January 26, 2024, granting some of South Africa’s requests and rejecting others.
  • The court said that it had prima facie jurisdiction to hear the case, based on the Genocide Convention, and that it would proceed to examine the merits of the case in due course.
  • The court said that it was not in a position to order a ceasefire, as that would require a political decision by the parties and the involvement of other actors, such as the UN Security Council and the Quartet (the US, the EU, Russia, and the UN).
  • The court said that it was concerned about the grave situation in Gaza and the risk of irreparable harm to the Palestinians, and that it had the power to indicate provisional measures to protect their rights under the Genocide Convention.
  • The court ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent the commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinians, to prevent and punish incitement to genocide, and to provide urgently needed assistance to address the adverse conditions of life in Gaza.
  • The court also ordered Israel to submit a report to the court within a month on what action it had taken to comply with the order, and to inform the court of any changes in the situation.
  • The court stressed that its order was binding and had to be implemented in good faith by Israel, and that it would remain in force until the court delivered its final judgment on the case.

What are the implications of the ruling?

  • The ruling is a significant victory for South Africa and a setback for Israel, as it validates South Africa’s claim that Israel’s actions in Gaza may amount to genocide and that the court has the authority to intervene.
  • The ruling also adds political pressure on Israel to work toward a ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, as it faces international scrutiny and criticism for its conduct in Gaza.
  • The ruling may also have legal consequences for Israel, as it could expose it to further lawsuits and sanctions from other states and organizations that are parties to the Genocide Convention or other human rights treaties.
  • The ruling is not enforceable by the court, but it is expected to have moral and diplomatic weight, as it reflects the opinion of the UN’s highest judicial organ and the voice of the international community.
  • The ruling is not the final word on the case, as the court will still have to examine the evidence and arguments of both sides and decide whether Israel is guilty of genocide or not. This process may take years, and the outcome is uncertain.

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