Gaza and the ICJ: A Stark Test for Global Commitment to Justice

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ICJ-ruling

ICJ’s Landmark Ruling: Israel Ordered to Prevent Genocide in Gaza

The International Court of Justice made a historic ruling today ordering Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. This landmark decision should have affirmed that no state, not even powerful ones like Israel, stand above international law.

The ruling issued by the ICJ ordered six provisional measures including for Israel to refrain from acts under the Genocide Convention, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide, and take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.

The court has also ordered Israel to preserve evidence of genocide and to submit a report to it, within one month, of all measures taken in line with its order.

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general, says the interim ruling “sends a clear message that the world will not stand by in silence as Israel pursues a ruthless military campaign to decimate the population of the Gaza Strip and unleash death, horror and suffering against Palestinians on an unprecedented scale.

“However, the ICJ decision alone cannot put an end to the atrocities and devastation Gazans are witnessing. Alarming signs of genocide in Gaza, and Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law highlight the urgent need for effective, unified pressure on Israel to stop its onslaught against Palestinians.

An immediate ceasefire by all parties remains essential and – although not ordered by the Court – is the most effective condition to implement the provisional measures and end unprecedented civilian suffering.”

Some may be disappointed that the court did not issue a provisional measure ordering a ceasefire in Gaza. That would be to miss the significance of The Hague’s judgment.

The measures it did call for – including directing Israel not to commit or incite genocide – reveal that not only is protection for ordinary Palestinians urgent, but that there is a plausible claim of the Gazan population being decimated.

Given the desperate humanitarian situation in the coastal strip, it is a very good thing that the court has reached its decision so quickly.

Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, over which the ICJ has jurisdiction. It should comply with the court’s ruling immediately, and preserve evidence related to the case.

The ICJ rightly did not spare Hamas, demanding that the hostages it holds must be freed. The militant group’s role in death and destruction should not be forgotten.

While South Africa welcomed the measures describing the ruling as a “decisive victory for the international rule of law”

The World’s Muted Response

2db8c2e1 israels benjamin netanyahu to seek immunity from corruption charges
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Yet already the resolve of not just Israel but their allied nations to abide by the court’s judgment appears shaky.

In response to the ruling, Israeli leaders doubled down on the rightness of their military campaign, dismissing accusations of genocide as “unfounded” and complaints from The Hague as irrelevant.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the ruling directly but said “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to defend our country.”

He said South Africa’s allegation that Israel was committing genocide was “not only false, it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it”.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant dismissed the ruling, saying Israel “does not need to be lectured on morality in order to distinguish between terrorists and the civilian population in Gaza”.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir appeared to mock the ruling with a Yiddish-style putdown on social media platform X: “Hague Shmague”.

Key allies like the United States, while affirming the importance of the ICJ, refused to demand Israel comply fully, instead insisting the court did not call for an immediate ceasefire. Even as the ICJ fulfilled its duty, states seem reluctant to uphold theirs.

Gaza reduced to rubble
Gaza reduced to rubble

The reluctance is unsurprising but no less damning. For decades, international institutions like the ICJ have been bulwarks against brutality, defenders of human rights and the rule of law. However, their authority relies entirely on the willingness of states to submit to their judgments. When convenient, countries trumpet their commitment to global governance — but when material interests are threatened, they equivocate and avoid.

Such selective adherence undermines the entire edifice of international law. If states pick and choose which rulings to follow based on political calculus, then global courts are rendered toothless. All the solemn rhetoric about shared values rings hollow when the push comes to shove. No nation has the right to opt-out when accountability comes calling.

That includes the UK which has been complicit in the atrocities committed in Gaza while Sunak defended slaughter and refused to condemn Israel for its war crimes Sir Keir Starmer justified the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza as self-defence.

Gaza: A Wake-Up Call for International Law and Justice

Hungry Palestinian children
Hungry Palestinian children clamour and beg for food in Rafah, Gaza on December 31, 2023. (Photo: Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua via Getty Images)

You do have to ask what wretched times are these, when the supposed guardians of civilization turn a blind eye to manifest barbarity. When the International Court’s ruling on Gaza’s agony elicits only smug dismissal from an Israel sunk in bloody dominance.

Where is the outrage from the international community where are the demands that law be upheld whatever the state? But the West has lost its way, its alleged pieties exposed as hypocrisy.

It’s a terrible thought but who could have imagined, only decades since the Nazi horror, that Israel would stand accused of visiting like cruelties upon its neighbours? Yet the bombs rain down, the dead pile up in their thousands. Women and children wither beneath the onslaught. And the world titters about proportionality, as if any proportion could warrant such butchery.

At least the International Court retains some integrity, some memory of its purpose. It sees through the toxic smog of propaganda and military pretext to the stark reality beneath. Israel’s assault, outright genocide, yet her backers equivocate and excuse.

The ICJ’s order regarding Gaza provided a litmus test for the world’s commitment to the laws it claims to revere. The results so far are discouraging if not decisive.

Better to face facts: a noble experiment in Jewish refuge has curdled into an apartheid tyranny drunk on might. Any claims of self-defence long lost in the rubble of Gaza or shot down under the white flag of surrender while Israel wraps itself in the bloody rags of history’s greatest crime, piping humanitarian platitudes while orphaning a generation.

This is the wages of the West’s amoral realpolitik, its sordid dance of mutual interest with tyrants. If law is but a parchment barrier, easily burned when inconvenient, what hope remains? How long before other would-be overlords take their cue, knowing civilized scruples are now as rare as hen’s teeth?

Yet perhaps Gaza’s ordeal will rouse the somnolent masses. Conscience is a frail thing, but indignation has power when properly stoked. If pressure mounts, leaders may rediscover forgotten principles. But time is short, and the ground slips away.

Each day the violence continues, more lives are lost in Gaza, casting further doubt on the resolve of the international community. If the ICJ’s historic stance against genocide is blithely ignored, it will corrode the already battered foundations of global cooperation. All who believe in human rights and human lives must loudly demand action before it is too late. The court has spoken for humanity — now leaders must choose whether to answer its call.

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