ICJ Orders Israel to Prevent Genocidal Acts in Gaza, But Not to End War

Oluchi Chibuzor with agency report

The United Nations’ top court yesterday, ordered Israel to do all it could do to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza, but the panel stopped short of ordering Jerusalem to end the military offensive that has laid waste to the Palestinian enclave.

In a ruling that would keep Israel under the legal lens for years to come, the court offered little other comfort to Israel in a genocide case brought by South Africa that goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. 

The court’s half-dozen orders will be difficult to achieve without some sort of cease-fire or pause in the fighting.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” The Associated Press quoted the court President, Joan E. Donoghue, as having said.

Donoghue said a Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, triggered a major response by Israel.

The ruling amounted to an overwhelming rebuke of Israel’s wartime conduct and added to mounting international pressure to halt the nearly 4-month-old offensive, which has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, decimated vast swaths of Gaza and driven nearly 85 per cent of its 2.3 million people from their homes.

Allowing the accusations to stand stung the government of Israel, which was founded as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews during World War II.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fact that the court was willing to discuss the genocide charges was a “mark of shame that will not be erased for generations.” He also vowed to press ahead with the war.

The power of the ruling was magnified by its timing, coming on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Those truly needing to stand trial are those that murdered and kidnapped children, women and the elderly,” former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, referring to Hamas militants who stormed through Israeli communities on October 7, in the attack that set off the war. The assault killed some 1,200 people and resulted in another 250 being kidnapped.

The court also called on Hamas to release the hostages who are still in captivity.

Haim Abraham, a lecturer in laws at University College London, noted that the court decision indicated “that there is, on the face of things, a risk that genocide might have been conducted” by Israel.

Many of the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority of the judges. Of the six orders, an Israeli judge voted in favor of two – an order for humanitarian aid and another for the prevention of inflammatory speech.

Israeli Judge Aharon Barak said he voted for those orders in the hope that they would “help to decrease tensions and discourage damaging rhetoric” while easing the “consequences of the armed conflict for the most vulnerable.”

Such provisional measures issued by the world court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel will comply with them.

“We will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people,” Netanyahu said. “Like every country, Israel has the basic right to defend itself.”

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