A view of a live broadcast displayed outside the ICJ building as pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest near the Court in The Hague on 26 January 2024

ICJ Directs Israel to Prevent Genocide, Doesn’t Call For Ceasefire

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In a landmark decision, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has directed Israel to take all necessary measures to prevent casualties in the Gaza Strip and specifically act to avert the risk of genocide. The court, notably, stopped short of ordering an immediate ceasefire or an extended cessation of hostilities.

The world court also noted that it recognizes the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide and that Palestinians appear to be a protected group under the genocide convention.

“The court considers that it cannot accede to Israel’s request that the case be removed from the general list,” Judge Joan E Donoghue said, adding that it concludes the ICJ has “prima facie” jurisdiction on this case. It orders Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent further bloodshed in Gaza in line with Genocide Convention obligations.

The ICJ issued an interim decision in response to a case brought forward by South Africa, accusing Israel of genocide for the alleged killing of over 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October.

South Africa had filed a case with the court earlier this month arguing that Israel’s military operation in Gaza amounted to a state-led genocide. Israel has refuted the accusation as “grossly distorted” and “blood libel.” It maintains that its military operations are targeting Hamas militants, not Palestinian civilians, despite thousands of civilians being killed in the fighting.

President of the International Court of Justice Judge Joan E Donoghue delivers a ruling on South Africa’s request for emergency measures against Israel on 26 January 2024. Image: UN

South Africa hailed the decision as a “decisive victory” for the international rule of law and said it welcomed the provisional measures. It further said the ruling marked a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people and that it sincerely hoped Israel would not act to frustrate the application of the court’s orders.

Reacting to the court ruling, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would continue its offensive until ‘absolute victory,’ and hostages are returned and Gaza is no longer a threat to Israel. “We will continue to defend ourselves and our citizens while adhering to international law.” He also said that “Israel is fighting a just war like no other,” he added.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant lashed out at the ICJ, saying Israel “does not need to be lectured on morality” while fighting Hamas in Gaza. “The International Court of Justice in The Hague went above and beyond, when it granted South Africa’s anti-Semitic request to discuss the claim of genocide in Gaza, and now refuses to reject the petition outright,” he says in a statement.

Palestinian authority welcomed the ICJ order stating the provisional measures issues were issued in light of the “incontrovertible evidence” presented to the Court about the unfolding genocide. “The ICJ ruling is an important reminder that no state is above the law or beyond the reach of justice. It breaks Israel’s entrenched culture of criminality and impunity, which has characterized its decades-long occupation, dispossession, persecution, and apartheid in Palestine,” Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyadh Maliki said in a statement.

Lubna Farhat, a member of the Ramallah city council, however expressed some disappointment with the ICJ’s ruling, acknowledging its historic significance but highlighting the Palestinian aspiration for an immediate ceasefire. She noted the absence of a call for Israel to halt military operations to facilitate humanitarian aid into Gaza, expressing concern that the ruling might exacerbate settler attacks in the occupied West Bank.

The ICJ’s directives to the Israeli government include taking immediate and drastic measures to enhance the protection of Gazans, preventing and punishing calls for genocide against Gaza residents, and collecting evidence of potential wrongdoing. The court also stressed the importance of compliance with international law by all parties in the Gaza Strip, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. ICJ Chairman Joan Donoghue expressed deep concern about the “human tragedy” in Gaza, referring to warnings from UN emergency coordinator Martin Griffiths that Gaza is at risk of becoming uninhabitable.

President Joan Donoghue (C), and other judges in the ICJ at the hearing on the genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa, in The Hague on 11 January 2024. Image: Remko de Waal/ANP

Highlights of the ICJ ruling:

  • The court did not order end to Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip
  • Noted it has jurisdiction to rule in the case.
  • Directed Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip.
  • Ordered Israel to report back in a month time and that it prevent and punish incitement to genocide.
  • Obliged that Israel must allow humanitarian aid into the Strip.
  • Directed that Israel should take more measures to protect Palestinians.

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