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Will World Court’s Ruling in Genocide Case Signal the End of International Law?

A credibility crisis with sharp consequences could result if the court rules in favor of Israel, despite the evidence.

Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi (center), a member of the South African legal team, talks to journalists at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa, upon his return from the genocide hearing against Israel at the International Court of Justice, on January 14, 2024.

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There is very little more we can say that the thousands of reports and images of death, destruction and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza have not. Israel, without a doubt — its genocide watched globally in real time — has already lost in the court of public opinion. But will the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the UN’s highest legal organ — find Israel guilty of genocide?

Nearly 30 years ago, the ICJ, also known as the World Court, played an important role in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Today, it is South Africa who has taken the lead in the genocide charge against Israel — a landmark case that would have made Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu proud.

Over the next several weeks, we shall see if the ICJ will endorse any of the “provisional measures” requested by South Africa, including its call for Israel to immediately suspend its military operations in Gaza. There is also a strong likelihood that the ICJ will succumb to pressure from the U.S., U.K., Germany and other Western nations and let Israel off the hook.

South Africa and Israel each presented arguments at the ICJ on whether Israel is in violation of the Genocide Convention in its war on Gaza. Consistent with past mainstream media reporting that silences pro-Palestinian voices and amplifies pro-Israeli ones, CNN, BBC, and others did not livestream South Africa’s submissions to the court on January 11. But on January 12, when the time came for Israel’s reply, mainstream media outlets lined up like ducks in a row and gave it wide coverage, effectively telling viewers only the Israeli government’s side of the story.

South Africa opened its genocide case against Israel at the ICJ by stating that “South Africa recognizes the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people through Israel’s colonization since 1948, which has systematically and forcibly dispossessed, displaced, and fragmented the Palestinian people deliberately denying them internationally recognized, inalienable right to self-determination and their internationally recognized right of return to their towns and villages.”

Adila Hassim, counsel for South Africa, addressed the court by pointing out that Hamas’s October 7 attack can’t justify Israel’s breach of the Genocide Convention. “This is a case that underscores the very essence of our shared humanity as expressed in the preamble to the Genocide Convention,” she said.

Netanyahu — who recently expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state in any post-war scenario — and his right-wing, extremist, Jewish supremacist colleagues don’t hide their genocidal intentions.

South Africa argued powerfully that Israel’s violations included: “Mass killing, in violation of Article 2A; destruction of the healthcare system, in violation of Article 2B; forced displacement of about 85% of Palestinians in Gaza; mass destructions: there is no indication at all that Israel will take responsibility. Instead, the destruction is celebrated by the Israeli Army; widespread hunger, dehydration, and starvation; reproductive violence inflicted by Israel on Palestinian women and newborn babies.”

It concluded by stating, “Each day 247 Palestinians are being killed, 1 every 6 minutes; 48 mothers, 2 every hour; 117 children, 5 every hour. Each day, 10 children will be amputated without anesthetic.”

The ICJ’s verdict is binding on Israel and South Africa — both are parties to the Genocide Convention — but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to react to South Africa’s allegations. In a televised speech he assured the Israeli public that “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.”

Ruling Against Israel Would Be a Strong Indictment of U.S. Complicity

The ICJ’s ruling is enforced by the UN Security Council, which can take a range of measures in the event of a violation, including economic sanctions. The U.S. has used its veto power in past UN Security Council votes to shield Israel from accountability and block any resolution against it. But is a veto of a resolution in a genocide case too high a price for the U.S. to pay for its support of Israel?

If the U.S. continues to behave in a way that is contrary to the values it claims to uphold, it would not only shatter the notion that the Biden administration tries to portray to the world — that it is a champion of human rights — but it will cause immeasurable damage, domestically and internationally, to U.S. credibility and its standing in the world.

On January 15, UN Secretary-General António Guterres once again pleaded for a ceasefire in Gaza as the war with Israel has now surpassed 100 days of fighting. Calling the magnitude of the destruction and civilian deaths “unprecedented,” the UN chief told Al Jazeera’s James Bays, “I think there is a way this war has been conducted in which there has been no effective protection of civilians. I think there are violations of international humanitarian law.”

The panel of judges will likely come under intense political pressure from powerful Western governments largely influenced by war-profiteering weapons manufacturers and arms contractors.

But our elected officials in Washington are not listening to the UN secretary general or to anyone else calling for a ceasefire. We have witnessed time and time again how they unabashedly exhibit their allegiance to the state of Israel. And we have seen repeatedly how disconnected they are from the vast majority of people in the U.S. who, over the past three months, have protested and flooded their offices with calls demanding a ceasefire and accountability for Israeli human rights violations and war crimes.

On January 16, the Senate voted 72 to 11 against a resolution introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders to make U.S. military support conditional on whether Israel is violating human rights in Gaza. The U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion each year in aid and President Joe Biden has recently asked Congress for an additional $14 billion in security assistance. Before the defeat of the measure, Sanders wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that “It should not be controversial to ask how US weapons are used.”

Instead of Pressuring Netanyahu, the U.S. and U.K. Drop Bombs on Yemen

No sooner had South Africa presented its damning and airtight case against Israel’s “genocidal intent” at the International Court of Justice than the U.S. and the U.K. began a bombing campaign in Yemen, hitting 60 locations on the first day and 28 on the second. The U.S. has bombed Yemen seven times this past week hitting over 150 targets. “POTUS can’t launch airstrikes in Yemen without congressional approval. This is illegal and violates Article 1 of the Constitution,” Rep. Cori Bush pointed out on social media.

Partly intended to distract from the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the ICJ case against Israel, and partly intended to send a clear message of the U.S.’s and U.K.’s unconditional support of Israel’s actions and their commitment to protecting their interests in global trade, the airstrikes — which Biden said will continue despite the fact that they are not “working” — are a form of collective punishment of a people already suffering from the effects of a devastating, U.S.-supported war that killed at least 377,000 people between 2015 and 2022, according to the UN. They also confirm the U.S. and Britain’s complicity and collaboration in Israel’s ongoing genocide and their willingness to utilize their military might to punish Yemen for its support of Palestinians.

The Yemeni group Ansar Allah (as the Houthi movement is officially known) — adamant about its support for the Palestinians — has set up a blockade and has been attacking ships in the Red Sea that they say are linked to Israel or bound for Israeli ports. The group made it clear that it will halt its drone attacks only when Israel allows aid to enter the Gaza Strip to ease the humanitarian catastrophe. Their attacks on ships have caused supply chain disruptions and are forcing commercial ships to take different costlier routes around Africa.

After the U.S. and British strikes, the Houthis’ military spokesperson Yahya Saree said, “All American and British ships and warships involved in the aggression against our country are considered hostile targets.” In response, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced that the Biden administration has officially re-designated Ansar Allah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.

U.S. officials told The Washington Post on Saturday that the Biden administration is planning for a “sustained military campaign” against the Houthis in Yemen.

In an unexpected show of support, Oman declared a no-fly zone for all aircraft trying to bomb Yemen.

Germany has also become a direct partner to Israel in its atrocities in Gaza by sending them tank shells. According to a report by Der Spiegel, German government officials have “fundamentally agreed behind the scenes” to supply Israel with thousands of rounds of 120-millimeter precision ammunition to fuel the war in Gaza.

In the event that pressure will come to bear on the judging panel and the ICJ rules in favor of Israel, despite the overwhelming evidence against it, this would further erode the UN’s legitimacy and could trigger a major credibility crisis.

Recently, Germany — the country responsible for the Holocaust — was rebuked by the president of Namibia after it announced its intention to intervene on Israel’s behalf as a third party in the ICJ’s genocide case. In a post on X, Namibian President Hage Geingob reminded Germany of its history of atrocities: “On Namibian soil, Germany committed the first genocide of the 20th century in 1904-1908, in which tens of thousands of innocent Namibians died in the most inhumane and brutal conditions. The German Government is yet to fully atone for the genocide it committed.”

Concerned about the soaring tensions across the region, China warned about further escalation of the war and the eruption of other fronts. On January 15, Reuters reported that China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for a large-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace conference and a timetable to implement a two-state solution — with a “binding” road map. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that “China also welcomes the active role of the United Nations in this regard.”

Mainstream Media Ignore Massive Global Protests Demanding a Ceasefire

As the Israeli assault on Gaza passed its 100-day mark — and the death toll has surpassed 25,000 Palestinians with over 62,000 injured — millions of protesters took to the streets around the world on January 13 for the “Global Day of Action for Palestine,” showing solidarity with the Palestinians and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

In a historic March on Washington, D.C. estimated at 400,000 strong, a sea of Palestinian flags and protesters wearing black-and-white keffiyehs could be seen for miles as the crowd headed in the direction of the White House. Largely unreported in U.S. mainstream media, the participating speakers included presidential candidates Cornel West and Jill Stein; Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X; and several Palestinian Americans.

Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement: “It is stunning that millions are marching around the world but the corporate world has been silent.”

Credibility of International Institutions Are at Stake

Israel, the ICJ, the UN and international law are all on trial here.

The mass of evidence presented by South Africa is as crystal clear as it is shocking. Netanyahu — who recently expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state in any post-war scenario — and his right-wing, extremist, Jewish supremacist colleagues don’t hide their genocidal intentions. We’ve heard the well-documented statements of Israeli Knesset members, cabinet ministers and army generals who vowed to make Gaza “unlivable.”

Israel was unable to respond convincingly or credibly to South Africa’s accusation of genocide. Its main defense at the ICJ centered on its argument that it was Hamas that was guilty of genocide and that Israel was simply defending itself. But this claim does not hold water as Hamas is not a party to the dispute. According to international law, Israel as an occupying power has a responsibility of protecting the people it occupies and not carpet bombing them to smithereens. The 17-year suffocating siege of Gaza is in and of itself a violation of international law, not to mention Israel’s use of water and food as weapons of mass destruction against the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza.

Over the next month or so before the ICJ’s interim order — and perhaps for years after, before a final ruling is issued — the panel of judges will likely come under intense political pressure from powerful Western governments largely influenced by war-profiteering weapons manufacturers and arms contractors. We’ve already heard from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said that “The charge of genocide is meritless.” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby declared that it was “Meritless, counterproductive, and without any basis in fact whatsoever.” Britain and the EU are sounding the same horn; and Germany — with the most experience in matters relating to genocide — is intervening as a third party in defense of Israel. On January 12, the German government released a statement saying that it “firmly and explicitly rejects the accusation of genocide that has now been made against Israel.”

In the event that pressure will come to bear on the judging panel and the ICJ rules in favor of Israel, despite the overwhelming evidence against it, this would further erode the UN’s legitimacy and could trigger a major credibility crisis with drastic and far reaching consequences as the rest of the world loses trust in the most prominent international body aimed at the nonviolent, diplomatic resolution of conflicts between nations.

Note: This article was amended to clarify that Israel and South Africa are parties to the Genocide Convention, rather than signatories to it.

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