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Without Enforcement Mechanism, ICJ’s Ruling to End Rafah Assault Will Be Ignored

Legal researcher Ahmed Abofoul says that Israel has responded to every ICJ measure by further targeting Palestinians.

Two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to immediately stop its assault on Rafah, Israeli warplanes began to drop bombs on refugee tent camps in what had previously been declared a “safe zone.” At least 45 people, including children and infants, were killed in the bombing. We discuss the ruling and the massacre in Rafah with Ahmed Abofoul, a legal researcher and advocacy officer at the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq who was born and raised in Gaza. Abofoul is now based in The Hague, where the International Court of Justice recently ordered Israel to halt its assault on Rafah in a genocide case brought by South Africa. Abofoul notes the significance of the World Court ruling but decries Israel’s complete disregard for international orders, including previous ICJ rulings this year. “Israel is lying,” while its allies are “parroting whatever Israel is saying.” Without a direct enforcement mechanism, attempts to rein in Israeli attacks are likely to continue to fail. Will “complicit” Western states “continue business as usual, or will we see sanctions on Israel?” Abofoul asks. “Everything I know in Gaza has been destroyed,” he adds. “This is a genocide. This is about the erasure of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and as a whole, and this is the essence of Zionism as a settler-colonial ideology.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israel’s bombing of the tent camp in Rafah that killed over 45 people on Sunday, housing displaced Palestinians in a so-called safe zone, came just two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to immediately stop its assault on Rafah. This is ICJ presiding Judge Nawaf Salam.

JUDGE NAWAF SALAM: The court considers that in conformity with the obligations under the Genocide Convention, Israel must immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah governorate which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.

AMY GOODMAN: The order came in response to an emergency request by South Africa, which has brought a genocide case against Israel at the World Court. Though the order is legally binding, there is no enforcement mechanism.

This is Abed Mohammed al-Attar, a Palestinian man whose brother and other relatives were killed in Israel’s latest attacks on Rafah.

ABDE MOHAMMED AL-ATTAR: [translated] The decision of the World Court is a lie. They are still killing. There are planes 24 hours a day. There are martyrs and killings all the time. There are wounded and injuries, children becoming orphaned, innocent people. They haven’t done anything. They were displaced from one place to another, looking for a living.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined at The Hague by Ahmed Abofoul, senior legal research and advocacy officer at the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq. He was born and raised in Gaza.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s very important to have you with us today. You know, the ruling of the International Court of Justice came down right after Democracy Now! aired on Friday. So, I’m wondering if you can start off by summarizing the ruling and the significance of it, Ahmed.

AHMED ABOFOUL: Thank you for having me again, Amy.

This is a very significant ruling. The court basically ruled that Israel must halt its military offensive on Rafah and any other acts that might endanger the Palestinian people as a group and their rights under the Genocide Convention. But the court also ruled that Israel must keep the Rafah crossing open and must allow all investigative bodies and commission of inquiries mandated by the U.N. to enter the territory and investigate alleged Genocide Convention violations and crimes and genocidal acts that may have been committed. And the court also ordered Israel to report to it after one month on its compliance with this order.

It’s worth noting that this is the third provisional measures order. In the first one, the court responded to South Africa’s request by accepting some of the measures that South Africa requested. In the second one, the court also responded to South Africa’s request by calling on Israel to ensure that humanitarian aid will enter the Gaza Strip from land crossings, including the Rafah crossings and other crossings, sending a very important signal to world leaders, especially in the West, that there is no alternative to allowing humanitarian aid by land — not the American pier or any other way, including airdrops.

In this provisional measure, as I indicated, we can see the evolution of the court’s, let’s say, analysis of the situation and the gravity and the deterioration of the situation. So, it’s important also to note that for every provisional measures request, the court has to assess again whether the court can issue such an order. So, the fact that the court decided on three different occasions to issue such order, it means that the situation continue to deteriorate, and the Palestinian people as a group in the Gaza Strip are threatened, in whole or in part, by Israel’s military operation, especially in Rafah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ahmed, I wanted to ask you, on Monday — about the European response to the war in Gaza. On Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said he’s requesting 26 European Union member states to issue official support to the International Court of Justice and to take steps to ensure Israel respects its decisions. Your sense of the impact of how Europe is lining up on this issue?

AHMED ABOFOUL: Well, some European states, as you indicated, have been saying that this order is binding and Israel must comply with it — better late than never. These orders have been binding from the first provisional measure order, which some states — in my view, disgracefully — tried to ignore or label as unhelpful. But we see also that in the West, in Europe, in particular, some states are taking different position than that has been taken in relation to the situation in Palestine, including Spain, Ireland, including also recognizing Palestine, but also Belgium, Norway and many others. So, what we’re witnessing now is the emergence of a different opinion in the European continent by states who are saying that this ruling must be complied with, including Germany. I think there was a statement by German officials that this order is binding.

The question is how the European Union will ensure that Israel complies with this order. As you and your viewers may already know, international law does not have an enforcement mechanism. And such order is worth what states make of it and how they utilize it to ensure compliance. So, the question is: Will the European Union and the individual European states continue, for example, their relations with Israel and business as usual, or will we see sanctions on Israel and other repercussions? Of course, it’s long overdue for Western states to impose sanctions on Israel, sever diplomatic relations, stop importing Israeli settlements’ goods, stop exporting arms to the Israeli apartheid regime. Western states, in general, are complicit in these crimes, especially the U.S., to be honest. The Palestinian victims who are being shattered apart, especially in Rafah, like we saw in the targeting of tents in a designated safe area, were most probably targeted by American weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is key, what happened on Sunday. This was just two days after the ICJ ruling, talking about not having an enforcement mechanism. As you said, this was designated as a safe zone. There was so much international outcry as Israel bombed the tent camp and it all went up in flames. Israel said it was because there was an oil tank next to it. But this is the nature of these concentrated population centers. The horrifying video went viral showing a man desperately holding up the charred corpse of a headless child amidst the still-blazing flames of the attack, causing the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a “tragic mistake,” and he’ll investigate. That’s the response when there isn’t an enforcement mechanism. You have Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American — only Palestinian American congressmember, this weekend demanding that President Biden lay out his red line, which he has talked about but at this point has not seemed to say that Netanyahu has crossed it. Talk about the role, for example, of the U.N. Security Council and what it would mean if it took up the ICJ’s ruling?

AHMED ABOFOUL: No, absolutely, you’re making a very important point, Amy. And if you’ll allow me just to remind your viewers of the fact that after every order of provisional measures by the ICJ, Israel has, in a way, responded in a such barbaric way targeting the Palestinians.

Take for example the first provisional measures, in which the court relied on UNRWA statements to assess what’s going on on the ground. And right after that order, Israel accused UNRWA of being involved in the October 7th attack. And several states, including the U.S., rushed to cut funding or suspend funding from UNRWA, without even viewing any evidence of such allegations, parroting whatever Israel is saying — in fact, lying. And then, shortly after, as we know, they restored funding, because they found out that Israel is lying.

After the second order, which was focused on humanitarian aid and on the danger of famine that the court described as sitting in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli apartheid regime, immediately after this order, targeted seven workers of the World Central Kitchen, killing nationals of several Western states, and claimed that it was a mistake, although the targeting was of several vehicles apart from each other, and the reporting showed that such acts could not possibly be a mistake.

After the third order, which is focused on Rafah and the fact that Israel has not provided the court with any convincing arguments or evidence that it has ensured the safe passage of civilians into those designated areas or the basic services needed for the survival of the population who would be moved to that area — the court ordered that Israel must halt its operation — Israel’s response was to target civilians in a safe — allegedly designated safe area, and then claimed once again it’s a mistake.

So, I think at this stage, one must not be fool enough to entertain Israel’s lies. Israel is lying. While we speak, Amy, just now, I received the news that Israel has targeted another gathering of tents in al-Mawasi area, west the Rafah governorate, where Israel also designated it as a safe area. The preliminary reporting indicates that over 20 persons have been torn apart by this bombing. The preliminary reporting I received is horrific, like that of the targeting on tents that you just mentioned and the horrific images that we’ve seen. So, I think any allegation that Israel is doing this by mistake is just ridiculous. And at this stage, entertaining such allegations is just in service of Israel’s monstrous and barbaric attacks against civilians.

Let me also remind you, Amy, of the targeting of Al-Ahli Hospital, when Israel claimed that it wasn’t an Israeli rocket, and then, after that, we had several investigations, including from Western media outlets, showing that it is in fact an Israeli targeting. So, what Israel is doing and what Israel was doing since targeting Al-Ahli Hospital is just sensing the pulse, how the international community will react to targeting civilians in a hospital. And unfortunately, the international community has not lived up to the responsibility, has allowed such monstrous acts, and then it’s continued. We saw how many hospitals have been targeted, based on these lies. And this is a deliberate act, Amy, because it’s with a genocidal mentality and intent to destroy any safe spot needed for or essential to the survival of the civilian population. And hospitals would be on top of that list.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ahmed, I wanted to ask about — a little about your personal story. You’re a Palestinian Dutch international lawyer. You’ve dedicated your life to defending human rights. But you were born and raised in Gaza and survived several Israeli assaults in Gaza. What is the situation with your own family there in Gaza today?

AHMED ABOFOUL: You know, this is, as you mentioned, a matter that is close to my heart. It’s personal in many ways. Since the beginning of this genocide, as I mentioned previously on the show, I lost quite a big number of my family, over 80 members from both sides of the family, including my oldest uncle and many others. My family, part of my family, was, in fact, in those tents, where they were targeted. We were lucky enough that only a few weeks ago I managed to get part of them out of the Gaza Strip, thanks to a funding campaign I launched, and I managed to get part of them to Egypt. But the rest of my family remains in Gaza.

And now, after Israel invaded the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, Palestinians don’t have a chance either of leaving the Gaza Strip or even receiving the much-needed humanitarian aid or medical teams that are much needed to enter the Gaza Strip. So, the situation is horrific on every Palestinian. I wouldn’t say that our suffering is the only thing. Palestinians across the occupied Gaza Strip have lost many loved ones. Gaza has been destroyed. Everything I know in Gaza has been destroyed, from my kindergarten to my school to my university, Al-Azhar University, and many other places, which I have so many memories of friends, family and loved ones and have been destroyed.

This is a genocide. This is about the erasure of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and as a whole, and this is the essence of Zionism as a settler-colonial ideology that is premised on the elimination of the indigenous Palestinians, to replace them in their land, supported by Western complicity in such atrocity crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Abofoul, I want to thank you for being with us, and also condolences on the loss of 80 members of your family. Ahmed is senior legal research and advocacy officer at the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.

And just to be exact in my quoting of the Michigan Democratic Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, she posted on social media, quote, “The whole world is taking action to stop the genocide of Palestinians, including the International Court of Justice. Where is President Biden’s ‘red line’?” she asked.

Next up, May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We’ll remember the work of photographer Corky Lee. Stay with us.

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