OPINION: International Court of Justice slams Israel on the charge of genocide in Gaza

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After hearing the arguments from eight advocates for the South African side of the dispute and six for the Israeli side, the International Court of Justice issued its ruling on the charge of genocide levelled by South Africa against Israel. That ruling was overwhelmingly affirmative of the charge against Israel. 

On six specific measures, the seventeen judges voted generally 15 to 2 in support of tasking Israel to mend its ways in its military operation in Gaza. The only judge to vote “no” on every measure was Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda. (On several of the measures, she was joined by Judge Aharon Batak of Israel.) 

The court’s presiding judge was Joan E. Donoghue of the United States. The other judges on the court are from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Russia, Slovakia, Somalia, South Africa, and Uganda. 

In the case, which easily drew world-wide attention, South Africa requested that the court order an Israeli cease fire in Gaza. The court stopped short of doing so, disappointing Palestinians, South Africans, and other observers around the world. The Netanyahu-backed Likud Party, which continues its military operations including massive bombings, was relieved.

In another attempt to display its impartiality, the court noted and condemned the attack of Hamas fighters on Israeli citizens, which last year sparked this latest round of fighting. The court also called upon Hamas to release the civilian hostages it is holding.

The bulk of the 84-page ruling, however, dealt with what the court had found or learned about the Israeli military operation that justified the call for measures to halt and/or prevent further genocidal actions against the Palestinians in Gaza. The order published the “evidence” on which it depended in concluding that anti-genocidal measures needed to be taken. It gave examples from various media as well as from testimonies. 

The ruling also cited the United Nations (UN) documents that spelled-out what is meant by the term genocide. It elaborated on the documents that gave the court its jurisdiction in the case. Additionally, it spelled out, perhaps for the first time by a United Nations body, that the Palestinians in Gaza are a protected class. 

Based upon those things and the accompanying hearing, the court voted on six specific measures, which amount to a sentence on Israel or obligatory actions which must follow or obey going forward. Paraphrased they are as follows.

(1) Israel must take all measures to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinian people, including killings, the inflicting of bodily and mental harm, the creation or fostering of conditions detrimental to life, and the prevention of live births.

(2) The Israeli military must not commit any of the acts above against Palestinian civilians.

(3) Israeli officials must refrain from and prevent the public incitement of genocide against Palestinians and must punish others who engage in such.

(4) Israel must enable the distribution of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza without controlling when, where, and how much is distributed.

(5) Israel must not hide, but must prevent the destruction of any evidence of genocide and preserve such evidence when it occurs.

(6) Israeli officials must submit within one month, a report to the court spelling out the measures they have taken to comply with the orders of the court.

Once the court released its document, Israel’s ruler, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned it as biased and unfair. Much of his commentary has been about Israel having a right to defend itself. In response to questions from the media, he also rejected the idea that a separate state for the Palestinian people would be a viable solution to the conflict. The U.S. remained fairly quiet on the International Court’s decision, perhaps relieved that the court did not order a cease fire on the part of Israel, since that is a position it is sometimes publicly taken. 

Since the court has spoken, it is now a matter of wait-and-see. If Israel does not comply with the court’s decision, the International Court of Justice can request the Security Council to act. If the Security Council takes up the request, any action ordered by that body could then be vetoed by the U.S., or any of the other “big five” nations on the Security Council, in support of Israel. (The Big Five on the Security Council includes China, England, France, Russia, and the U.S.) Should that occur, things would be at a stalemate, as has happened in many past such instances. 

The International Court of Justice has taken the first crucial step in condemning Israel for committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. It is now a matter of where the rest of the world stands. In a real sense, it boils down to who believes in the rule of law. Too often, the U.S. and the other wealthier countries, especially those in the northern sphere of the world, have used the UN to enforce their will upon others, but rejected, spurned, or ignored the UN when it has tried to enforce international law against them and their allies. Yes, this is an issue where the people who support humanitarianism and the rule of law need to make their voices heard at the White House and at the UN. 

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OPINION: International Court of Justice slams Israel on the charge of genocide in Gaza

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
February 5, 2024