Home » The ICJ Sides With South Africa Over Israel in Scathing Ruling

The ICJ Sides With South Africa Over Israel in Scathing Ruling

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The International Court of Justice ruled Friday that South Africa has standing to continue its case against Israel over charges of genocide and that a significant risk of genocide against the Palestinian population requires the Court to issue a preliminary order barring Israel from further such acts, namely: 

(a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

You can find the ruling here.

The Court gave Israel one week to report back on its compliance with the Geneva Convention, but stopped short of fulfilling South Africa’s maximalist demand for an immediate cease fire. However, it would not be possible for Israel to continue waging its war the way it is while simultaneously complying with the Court order. 

“This is a devastating blow to Israel’s global standing,” said Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. This morning, I interviewed Parsi about what this ruling means and where it goes from here. I even figured out how to play some clips during the broadcast, including Benjamin Netanyahu’s response.

Israel, as my colleague Jeremy Scahill points out, is already in open defiance of the ruling: 

The ruling at the court is undoubtedly important in a symbolic sense: It found that the Palestinians of Gaza are a protected group under the provisions of the Genocide Convention and that South Africa had proven that there is a reasonable basis to litigate whether Israel’s military onslaught constitutes a genocide.

But it also represents a technical coup for Israel, which has already argued it is not committing genocidal acts. The bottom line is that the court has ruled that Israel should stand trial on charges of genocide in Gaza, but the judges carved out a significant loophole that Israel can exploit to continue its war against Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that no one will stop the war against Gaza, including The Hague. The court’s decision not to order an immediate cessation of the military assault is already being emphasized in Tel Aviv.

While generally denouncing the ICJ ruling, Netanyahu asserted that the court “rightly rejected the outrageous demand” for an immediate halt to the military attacks on Gaza. “The very claim that Israel is carrying out genocide against Palestinians is not only false, it’s outrageous, and the willingness of the court to deliberate it at all is a mark of disgrace that will not be erased for generations,” Netanyahu, reacting to the ruling, said.

He also vowed Israel will keep fighting “until total victory, until we defeat Hamas, return all the captives and ensure that Gaza will not again be a threat to Israel.”

Gallant, whose statements were cited as evidence of genocidal intent, adding that Israel “does not need to be lectured on morality in order to distinguish between terrorists and the civilian population in Gaza.”

He said Israel will continue its war. “Those who seek justice, will not find it on the leather chairs of the court chambers in The Hague — they will find it in the Hamas tunnels in Gaza, where 136 hostages are held, and where those who murdered our children are hiding.”

“Hague Shmague,” tweeted Netanyahu’s minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

You can find more on the response to the ruling from Jeremy here.  

Where the U.S. Stands

The ICJ’s ruling can be enforced by the U.N. Security Council, of which the U.S. is a member and wields veto power. Discussions are already underway on the possibility of an enforcement resolution. Yesterday, I asked State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel whether the U.S. would pledge to respect the ruling and at minimum commit not to veto enforcement. He declined to make that commitment (watch here). 

Today, in its direct response, the State Department attempted to spin the ruling as some sort of victory — saying the Court had affirmed Israel’s “right to action” — because it didn’t call for an immediate ceasefire, a bad misreading of ICJ’s order.

The U.S. also issued a more indirect response to the ICJ ruling, stunning in its symbolism. The State Department issued a statement Friday morning saying it had paused all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, because 12 employees of the agency had been alleged to have participated in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel. The head of UNRWA had already terminated the contracts of the 12 suspects and launched an investigation. 

Meanwhile, UNRWA is one of Gaza’s largest employers, with more than 10,000 Palestinians on staff. Israel, a relentless critic of UNRWA, had previously attempted to undermine the organization by noting that many of the Hamas participants on October 7 had attended UNRWA schools. Matt Miller, a State Department spokesperson, responded by noting a “breakdown of logic,” given that nearly all Palestinians attend such schools. The U.S. is now deploying similar logic to block funding for the UNRWA just as the ICJ finds Gaza at risk of a genocide and orders Israel to do everything in its power to make sure humanitarian aid reaches the Palestinian population. 

The U.S. is making extremely clear that if Israel goes down, we’re going down swinging with them. 

The Biden war effort is facing legal complications at home, too. A group of bipartisan members of Congress led by Rep. Ro Khanna sent a letter to the White House urging the administration to seek legal authorization for its war in Yemen. 

The Houthis, meanwhile, have launched their shipping blockade under the auspices of international law, claiming they’re fulfilling their obligations under applicable conventions to prevent the genocide of Palestinians.

Finally, on Deconstructed today, Murtaza Hussain and I spoke with Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N. It was a wide-ranging conversation, touching on the Houthis, India, Gaza, China, and a ton more. That’s here.

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January 2024