ICJ orders Israel to ensure its forces don’t commit genocidal acts in Gaza

AFP Joan E Donoghue, president of the International Court of Justice, read out the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges. / Photo: AFP
AFP Joan E Donoghue, president of the International Court of Justice, read out the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges. / Photo: AFP


The UN top court has ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice in its interim judgement on Friday also ordered Israel to improve the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave.

Israel must take “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians,” the court said.

The court said it has jurisdiction to rule over emergency measures, adding it would not throw out genocide case as Israel requested.

It noted Palestinians appear to be a protected group under the Genocide Convention, emphasising it recognises the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.

On Dec. 29, South Africa filed a lawsuit with the ICJ requesting an injunction against Israel on the grounds that Israel’s attacks on Gaza violate the Genocide Convention.

Among the measures South Africa requested was an immediate halt to Israel’s brutal offensive, which has laid waste to much of the enclave and killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

It also requested that the ICJ grant an injunction due to the urgency of the situation. Following the completion of hearings on January 11-12, the court began deliberations after examining the parties’ submissions and evidence.

‘Prevent and punish’ incitement to genocide

The court warned Israel to “take all measures in its power to prevent” acts that could fall under the UN Genocide Convention, set up in 1948 as the world reeled from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.

It also said Israel should “prevent and punish” any incitement to genocide.

Over two days of hearings earlier this month in the gilded hall of the Peace Palace, where the ICJ sits, lawyers from both sides battled it over the interpretation of this Convention.

South Africa accused Israel of “genocidal” acts that were intended to cause the “destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

It urged the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend” its offensive in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach the civilians there.

No one will stop us

Israel dismissed the case as a “grossly distorted story” and said that if any genocidal acts had been carried out, they had been executed against Israel during the October 7 Hamas attacks.

“What Israel seeks by operating in Gaza is not to destroy a people, but to protect a people, its people, who are under attack on multiple fronts,” said Tal Becker, Israel’s top lawyer.

The question now is whether the court’s rulings will be obeyed.

Although its rulings are legally binding, it has no mechanism to enforce them and they are sometimes completely ignored it has ordered Russia to stop its offensive of Ukraine for example.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already hinted Israel would not abide by any ruling saying “no one will stop us”, not even a verdict in The Hague.

But experts believe that aside from the significant symbolic impact of the ruling, there could be tangible consequences on the ground.

“It makes it much harder for other states to continue to support Israel in the face of a neutral third party finding there is a risk of genocide,” said Juliette McIntyre, international law expert from the University of South Australia.

“States may withdraw military or other support for Israel in order to avoid this,” she added.

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