What to Know About the ICJ’s Initial Ruling in Genocide Case

What to Know About the ICJ’s Initial Ruling in Genocide Case

The International Court of Justice issued an interim ruling on Friday in a wider case about whether Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in the enclave.

Decisions by the court, the United Nations’ top judicial body, are binding, but the court has few means of enforcement. Still, the ruling added to international pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over the war. Israel has strongly rejected the genocide charge.

Here’s what to know about the ruling.

The interim ruling came in response to South Africa’s request for “provisional measures” to stop Israel’s military campaign in Gaza while the court considered the broader genocide charge.

On Friday, the court ruled on Friday that Israel must take actions to prevent acts by its forces in Gaza that are banned under the 1948 Genocide Convention, including indiscriminate killing of Palestinians and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The judges also ordered Israel to prevent and punish public statements that constitute incitements to genocide and to ensure basic services and humanitarian aid to get into Gaza. They also directed Israel to preserve evidence related to allegations of genocide. Finally, the judges ordered Israel to report back to the court within a month to show how it is complying with the order.

Still, the court stopped short of calling for Israel to suspend its military campaign, in line with what many legal experts had predicted.

The court is not expected to rule on the genocide charge for years.

This month, the South African government accused Israel at the court in The Hague of “acts and omissions” that are “genocidal in character” against Palestinians in Gaza. Arguing before a panel of 17 judges, South African lawyers said that Israeli leaders and lawmakers had communicated in public statements their intent to commit genocide, which would be a violation of the U.N. genocide convention, to which Israel is a party.

South Africa offered as evidence the words of Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said in October that Israel would impose a complete siege on the territory because it was fighting “human animals.” One South African lawyer showed the court a video of Israeli troops dancing and singing that “there are no uninvolved citizens,” arguing that it showed that the soldiers had understood “the inciting words” of their leaders.

Lawyers for Israel told the court that the Israeli military had worked to preserve civilian life, giving noncombatants two weeks to leave northern Gaza before invading in late October. They also say that, after freezing aid deliveries to Gaza at the start of the war, they have since enabled it to be supplied daily.

Israel’s lawyers say that some inflammatory statements by Israeli leaders were made by people without executive power over the military campaign, or have been taken out of context. Israel has declassified more than 30 secret orders made by government and military leaders, which it says show Israeli efforts to limit harm to civilians.

At some level, the case is a legal reckoning for the war in Gaza, which began when Hamas led an Oct. 7 attack that killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials, with about 240 others taken hostage. Israel has retaliated with airstrikes and a ground invasion that have killed more than 25,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities there. The United Nations estimates that around 70 percent of the dead are women or children.

Many Israelis see the case as part of an effort dating back decades to turn the country into a pariah and to hold it to a higher level of scrutiny than other nations. Israeli leaders have called the case absurd, arguing that Israel, which was founded after a genocide of Jews, is fighting a genocidal enemy in Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction.

Many Palestinians, however, see the case as a rare opportunity to subject Israel to scrutiny. They argue that the United States and other powerful allies have protected Israel from accountability, including at the U.N. Security Council.

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Liam Garrison

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