The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has demanded Israel take all measures within its power to prevent genocide and the incitement of genocide, however it refrained from calling for a ceasefire and ordering Israel to stop its offensive in Gaza
Joan Donoghue, ICJ president, said: “The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life.”
South Africa filed a case against Israel at the ICJ in December, with hearings being held on 11-12 January in The Hague. Pretoria accusing Israel of committing crimes amounting to genocide in the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to a fierce war for more than three months.
It argued that Israel is breaching the UN convention on genocide by “killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction.”
As of 23 January, the Israeli aggression on Gaza has killed 25,700 people and injured 63,740 others, most of them children and women, in addition to causing massive destruction and unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. An update of the death toll has not been possible as a result of the collapse of the telecommunication systems in the Strip.
According to Donoghue, in the court’s view, at least some of Israel’s actions in Gaza brought forward by South Africa fell within the provisions of the UN’s Genocide Convention and therefore, the court could not “accede to Israel’s request that the case be removed from the general list.”
The 17-judge panel issued six emergency measures, directing Israel to employ “all measures within its power” to prevent actions that may violate the Genocide Convention and that it must “ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit” any genocidal acts.
It has ordered Israel to “prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” as well as to “ensure the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” in Gaza. Palestinians area a group protected under the genocide convention, the court said.
Though the decisions are legally-binding, the court has no means of enforcement.
At the forefront of South Africa’s demands, however, was a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza,” which activists and lawyers have noted the court declined to do.
Human rights lawyer, Reed Brody, said: “The ICJ didn’t give South Africa all it wanted, but this ruling is a resounding vindication of Pretoria’s decision to bring the case, and a powerful indictment of Israeli policy.”
“Most importantly, whatever the Israeli government may say, this binding order will put pressure on Israel, directly and through its allies, to end the collective punishment of the people of Gaza and to allow humanitarian aid, Finally, after almost four months of death and destruction, Israel has faced a legal reckoning for its actions.”
South Africa called the decision “a decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people.”
Its Foreign ministry announced: “There is no credible basis for Israel to continue to claim that its military actions are in full compliance with international law, including the Genocide Convention, having regard to the Court’s ruling.”
“South Africa sincerely hopes that Israel will not act to frustrate the application of this order, as it has publicly threatened to do, but that it will instead act to comply with it fully, as it is bound to do.”
South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, further said that, even if the court did not directly mention the term ceasefire, full implementation of the court’s demands will naturally lead to a ceasefire, and a halt to the war.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the ruling, rejecting the “discrimination” faced by the occupation state. “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to continue to defend our country and defend our people. Like every country, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself.”
“The vile attempt to deny Israel this fundamental right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state, and it was justly rejected. The charge of genocide levelled against Israel is not only false, it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it. Israel will continue to defend itself against Hamas, a genocidal terror organisation,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) welcomed the court’s decision and called on all states, including Israel, to ensure that the measures are implemented.
“The ICJ order is an important reminder that no state is above the law. It should serve as a wake-up call for Israel and actors who enabled its entrenched impunity,” Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said.