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Gaza genocide: landmark ruling against Israel

29 January 2024 | International Solidarity Movement | The Hague, Netherlands 

©REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

On Friday, January 26, after a two-week tense wait, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered the ruling on the genocide case brought by South Africa against Israel. In a landmark decision, the ICJ accepted SA’s case and asserted that there is indeed a plausible risk of genocide in the brutal attack on the besieged Gaza Strip. The ICJ ordered Israel to take “all measures within its power” to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire (as has been ordered previously in other cases, such as the case brought by Ukraine against Russia). 

By finding ‘plausible’ that genocide is being committed in Gaza, the ICJ asserted its jurisdiction to rule in the case. Six provisional measures were then ordered by the Court, which included that Israel must prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, prevent and punish public incitement to genocide, and immediately allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. The Court also ordered Israel to preserve evidence of genocide and to submit a report to the Court in one month. 

Reactions to the case have been mixed. On the one hand, this is a landmark case that has dealt a huge reputational blow to Israel and its Western allies. As a representative for Amnesty International stated, the 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.” 

The ruling also places Israel in a very difficult position, with legal experts believing it will now be harder for Israel to wage war in Palestine. Failure to comply with the orders will only increase public sentiment that is, on the whole, in favor of Palestinians, and may draw criticism of Israel from allies like the EU, who stated that they expect a ‘full, immediate implementation’ of the provisional measures. As such, the case can be seen as an ‘important step’ that could prevent further suffering and harm to Palestinians. 

Legal experts have also affirmed that the only way to implement the measures imposed by the court is effectively only via a ceasefire.

On the other hand, many prominent Palestinians and allies viewed the case as a disappointment, noting Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law and the need for an immediate ceasefire. As Mohammed el-Kurd tweeted:

“The ICJ has failed to implement South Africa’s first and most important requested provisional measure: “the State of Israel shall immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza. Not shocking, but stings nonetheless.”

Meanwhile, others questioned the legitimacy of the case given that international law seems to be, increasingly, something that is only upheld when convenient to Western states and their allies. Whilst this is a legally binding Court ruling, it is questionable whether these measures will be implemented and who will enforce them. Far from providing a definite ending to the genocide in Gaza, as many hoped, the ICJ case may be best seen as another step in the growing international movement aiming to end Israel’s abuses in Palestine.