The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that it is “plausible” that Israel is committing genocide in a highly anticipated initial ruling on Friday, ordering Israel to take steps to avoid going even further in its violence in Gaza but stopping short of calling for a ceasefire.
In its decision, the ICJ ordered Israel to abide by its obligations under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention, especially with regard to four of the five convention’s criteria that define a genocide: killing members of the group, causing bodily or mental harm to the group, inflicting conditions meant to cause harm to the group, and preventing births within the group.
The ruling orders Israel to ensure that its military does not commit actions within the criteria, to take immediate action to enable humanitarian aid within Gaza, and to prevent the destruction of evidence that could be incriminating.
The court also orders Israeli officials to punish those who have been inciting genocide against Palestinians and to prevent similar incitements in the future.
The ruling highlighted several statements in October from Israeli officials, like President Isaac Herzog’s pledge for Israel to “fight until we’ll break their backbone” and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s speech to Israeli troops in which he called Palestinians “human animals.” The court then cites a November press release by the UN Human Rights Council calling attention to “discernibly genocidal and dehumanizing rhetoric coming from senior Israeli government officials.”
Many Palestinians have been disheartened by the order, as Al Jazeera reports, with many hoping that the ICJ would bring an end to Israel’s relentless bombing, disease and starvation campaign in Gaza; indeed, even as the ICJ was delivering its decision on Friday, Israeli forces were dropping bombs in Khan Yunis in Southern Gaza.
“The ICJ forg[ot] to tell Israel in [its] decision today to cease fire against Palestinians in Gaza. We are under fire and under killing; we are under genocide,” said Palestinian journalist Bisan Owda in a video posted on Instagram from Gaza on Friday, with the sound of sirens clearly in the background.
“There is no justice in the International Court of Justice,” Owda continued. “There is no justice in this world. ICJ is a lie…. We’re continuing this alone, as we started this alone, with our own [cell phones] to tell you the truth, to seek for justice. Now, there’s no truth or justice. I’m just stuck out of my home and can’t get back, and no one can get me back to my home, or to stop killing us day after day, for 112 days.”
South African officials celebrated the decision as a “decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people” in a statement. However, they said that the implication of the ruling is that there must be a ceasefire.
Israeli officials have rejected the ruling, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the court is denying Israel the opportunity to defend itself — an action that apparently involves depriving Palestinians of nearly all humanitarian aid — and Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir outright mocking the ruling in a post on social media, saying “Hague shmague.”
Advocates for Palestinian rights say that the ruling is a historic step toward holding Israel responsible for its horror on the world stage. But they are discouraged by the lack of a ceasefire order, which they, like the South African officials, say is the only way to guarantee that Israel follows through on the court’s provisional measures, especially considering experts’ concerns that Israel may not abide by them.
Though the court’s decisions are binding, countries like Serbia and Russia have refused to abide by rulings from the ICJ in the past. And, indeed, Israeli officials have already pledged to defy the orders, saying that no one will stop them, not even the Hague.
“Everything [the ICJ] ordered in terms of preventive measures leads to only one conclusion, which is ceasefire,” said Mahmood Mamdani, a Columbia University professor with a specialization in colonialism, in an interview with Democracy Now!. “How do you stop killing people? Ceasefire. How do you ensure that supplies for human life get in? Ceasefire.”
Human rights attorney and Rutgers professor Noura Erakat said that she was “relieved” when the ICJ’s decision came down because, while it didn’t go far enough, it still provided “vindication” in regards to recognition of the suffering that Israel and the global community have forced on Palestinians. “This court was never going to save us,” and rather could have been “a great source of harm,” Erakat said in a video posted on social media.
Erakat added that the court’s decision should serve as a further call to action for advocates. The court “ordered all of the provisional measures requested by South Africa, stopping short of issuing an order for a cessation of military hostilities, which was already a longshot — and in all cases, even had they provided that order, it wouldn’t have been sufficient to do anything. It would still be in our hands to now take this ruling and to agitate globally,” Erakat continued.
Groups that advocate for Palestinian rights said that the ruling was a crucial first step in ensuring that Israel’s massacre is documented on the world stage, and have said that global leaders’ next moves will be crucial in showing whether or not they are willing to shirk a decision from the ICJ in order to assist Israel in its genocide.
“For over 100 days, the Israeli and the U.S. governments have gaslit and smeared the Palestinian people, denying what the entire world was witnessing: a genocide,” said Jewish Voice for Peace political director Beth Miller in a press release. “Now, the highest court in the world has found these claims plausible. President Biden has a choice to make: he can reject the entire system of international law and continue complicity in Israeli genocide, or he can stop arming a genocidal regime and stop attacking the people and movements struggling to build a more just and peaceful future.”
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