On 26 January, the UN’s International Court of Justice ordered Israel to ensure its forces do not commit acts of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.
TALA LADKI explains the background to the historic ruling.
The United Nations' highest judicial body, The International Court of Justice (ICJ), convened at The Hague on Thursday, January 11, 2024, to hear arguments submitted by South Africa alleging Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip constitutes genocide.
The two-day hearing allowed Israel to retaliate on Friday, January 12. The ICJ’s initial hearings allowed both sides up to three hours each to make their case. The final decision will take up to several weeks to be finalized.
South Africa, no stranger to genocide, famine and acts of abuse, first raised the case against Israel on December 29th, asking the ICJ to act urgently “to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the genocide convention, which continues to be violated with impunity.”
The hearing on Thursday started with opening statements regarding the situation in Gaza and Israel. At 10:00 a.m., the court began hearing South Africa’s arguments.
Lawyers representing South Africa’s case took to the podium to show evidence of how Israel has been committing genocide, quoting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speeches and showing videos of IDF soldiers mocking Palestinian deaths and refugees, and blatantly stating their urge to flatten Gaza.
As the court took place, thousands rallied outside The Hague, in Palestine and in other countries in support of South Africa’s case.
On Friday, January 12, Israel took its turn to present its arguments to the panel of 12 judges.
South Africa’s Claims
South Africa presented an 84-page filing. On the stand, their main claim was that Israel is committing genocide and has breached eight laws under the Genocide Convention.
South Africa asked the ICJ to rule on whether or not Israel has violated and continues to violate the Genocide Convention through the crimes committed against Palestinians. South Africa also showed extensive evidence of killings, harm and destruction through statements from Israeli officials and other supporting evidence including videos and official numbers of displacement, death and injuries.
Meanwhile, Israel’s defense took to the podium to reject the accusations, calling them “baseless.”
Israel defended itself by stating that the arguments presented against it were “distorted” in a way to make it seem as though Israel is committing genocide. They also mentioned that their sole purpose is to eliminate Hamas.
Their defense presented four main arguments. The first rendered ministerial statements on destroying Gaza as unrelated to the current war. The second was that their current crimes are an act of self-defense. The third went back to the Bosnian genocide and the fourth was about South Africa’s case not meeting requirement.
A plethora of countries have since shown their support for the South African case, including Turkey, Jordan, Malaysia, Bangladesh and The Arab League. Meanwhile, common backers of Israel, including the United States of America have repeatedly denied the case made by South Africa. Guatemala, Britain and Ireland also opposed South Africa’s case.
Now, the International Court of Justice will privately consider the case against Israel's Gaza actions. Although a final ruling may take years, the court could potentially announce a temporary decision within weeks, possibly requiring a halt to the ongoing military operations.
These rulings are legally binding and cannot be challenged, but the court's ability to enforce them directly is limited.
NB: since the time of writing, an interim judgement has been delivered by the president of the court, Joan Donoghue, who said Israel must “take all measures within its power” to prevent acts that fall within the scope of the genocide convention and must ensure “with immediate effect” that its forces do not commit any of the acts covered by the convention.
Written by Tala Ladki