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ICJ Asks Israel to Stop “Genocide” in Gaza, Allow Humanitarian Services into the Strip, Israel Fumes

ICJ Asks Israel to Stop “Genocide” in Gaza, Allow Humanitarian Services into the Strip, Israel Fumes


Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday ordered Israel to take action to prevent acts of genocide as it wages war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip but it stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Giving its ruling on nine provisional measures requested by South Africa in its genocide claim against Israel, the World Court told Israel that it must take “all measures within its power” to prevent all acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention.

While the court did not agree to South Africa’s request for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, it directed Israel to allow the entry of basic services and humanitarian assistance into the Palestinian enclave. Highlighting that the interim ruling creates binding international legal obligations, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, the court’s President, ordered Israel to report to the court within a month on the steps taken to ensure compliance.

In the ruling, 15 of the 17 judges on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) panel voted for emergency measures which covered most of what South Africa asked for, with the notable exception of ordering a halt to Israeli military action in Gaza.

Israel’s military operation has laid waste to much of the densely populated enclave and killed more than 25,000 Palestinians in nearly four months, according to Gaza health authorities. Israel unleashed its assault after a cross-border rampage on October 7 by Hamas militants. Israeli officials said 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and 240 taken hostage.

The court said it was “gravely concerned” about the fate of the hostages in Gaza and called on Hamas and other armed groups to immediately release them without conditions. But the ruling, welcomed by Palestinians, will still be an embarrassment for Israel and its closest allies, including the United States.

Israel had asked the court to reject the case outright, saying it respects international law and has a right to defend itself. “The state of Israel shall…take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of the Genocide convention,” the court said. Israel must report back to it on what steps it was taking in a month’s time, it said.

On the ICJ orders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the charge of genocide levelled against Israel was “outrageous” and said it would do whatever is necessary to defend itself. “The vile attempt to deny Israel this fundamental right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state, and it was justly rejected,” he said in a statement.

But while the ICJ’s decisions are final and without appeal, the court has no way to enforce them. The court did not rule at this stage on the core of the case brought by South Africa – whether genocide has occurred in Gaza. But it recognised the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.

South Africa’s deputy president Paul Mashatile and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola were seen cheering and dancing at a gathering of the governing African National Congress party following the court’s verdict.

South Africa argued two weeks ago that Israel’s aerial and ground offensive was aimed to bring about “the destruction of the population” of Gaza. The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Acts of genocide named in the convention include killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the group in whole or in part.

Notably, the UN’s top court took note of several statements made by senior Israeli officials that South Africa claimed were reflective of its “genocidal intent.” In particular, the court referred to remarks made by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in ordering a “complete siege” of Gaza and telling troops that they are fighting against “human animals.”

Whether Israel will choose to abide by the ruling is debatable since the court does not have any enforcement powers. The ICJ had in March, 2022, ordered Russia to halt its offensive in Ukraine but Moscow decided to ignore it.

In public hearings conducted from January 11-12, South Africa argued that Israel’s military operations in Gaza violated the Genocide Convention and that it had been carrying out hostilities against Palestinians even before the October 7 action by Hamas. Reliance was also placed on reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, and officials of the United Nations to highlight the indiscriminate killing of civilians and Israel’s blockade of humanitarian assistance that have pushed Palestinians to the “brink of famine.”

Israel, on the other hand, contended that there was no dispute between the parties and that the scope of its military operation was limited to destroying Hamas. It also accused South Africa of relying on statistics provided by Hamas on casualties.

The court ordered Israel to ensure the preservation of evidence in Gaza. There should also not be any denying of access to this evidence by fact-finding missions, international mandates, and other international bodies.




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