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The Ruling of the International Court of Justice on South Africa v. Israel

Article by Wardah Malik | February 5, 2024


On October 7, 2023, when Hamas militants stormed the Gaza border, it prompted a swift response from Israel who launched several airstrikes into the region. In the weeks that followed, a ground campaign and bombardments from the sea were deployed in order to wipe out Hamas’s center of operations in Gaza City. The campaign, which initially covered northern Gaza, eventually extended to the south, forcing the displacement and death of thousands [1]. Many nations, human rights organizations, and activists have condemned the fighting for causing human rights violations. South Africa, in particular, has made its claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  


In late December 2023, in response to the damage to Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and a mounting death toll, South Africa filed a case against Israel arguing that its actions “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group,” a breach of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide [2].


Taking into account the blocking of humanitarian aid, excessive use of force as well as the inflammatory statements made by senior Israeli officials, the ICJ has issued a verdict in favor of South Africa, marking the first instance in which an international legal body has referenced genocide when discussing the plight of the Palestinian peoples [3]. Although it does not specifically call for a ceasefire, the provisions outlined by the ICJ instruct Israel to prevent and punish incitements to genocide; open humanitarian aid channels to Gaza; preserve evidence; and provide the court with a report detailing these measures within a month [4]. Many have cited the ruling as a new era devoid of impunity and exemptions from international law, still, it cannot be celebrated as such without proper adherence from Israel. 


As members of the United Nations, both South Africa and Israel are bound by the ICJ ruling and cannot appeal the decision. Still, implementation of the provisions may be difficult considering that ICJ itself does not have an enforcement mechanism. Moreover, following the ICJ ruling, Israeli officials have reiterated their intention to wipe out Hamas; a campaign that could result in the death of an estimated 100,000 Palestinians, many of whom are already deprived of food, water, and medical care [5].  


At present, human rights defenders are discussing what tangible change to the current conflict looks like with many calling for implementation of the ruling. One proposed option is the UN Security Council where member states could vote on a resolution ordering Israel’s compliance with the provisions announced. Given ICJ’s backing, it would damage the credibility of the international legal system if a state vetoes such a resolution. While high-level discussions on enforcement are underway, the destruction of Gaza’s residential blocks, schools, and hospitals continues. As of January 2024, the death toll stands at 26,637 - a number that will rise if a ceasefire is not called [6].


How can we help?

  • Donate to organizations which are supporting civilians displaced or harmed by the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

    • Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is an independent human rights organization that helps promote the rule of law and democratic principles in the Occupied Territories. 

    • Since 1968, Anera has been working with its partners in Palestine to develop sustainable, long-term health, education, and economic development for refugees and other vulnerable communities. 

  • Sign petitions calling for a ceasefire: The escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas has shattered the lives of civilians. Gaza and its people cannot recover or rebuild from this conflict without a ceasefire - a reality recognized by Amnesty International and Oxfam International.

  • Ask your government to support ICJ ruling: To uphold the international right-based order, it is crucial to pressure local politicians and government heads to support the ICJ ruling and closely follow Israel's February 26, 2024 report back to the ICJ.

References 


[1] Reuters. (2023, November 19). Palestinians Search for Shelter as Wider Israeli Campaign Mounts. VOA. https://www.voanews.com/a/palestinians-search-for-shelter-as-wider-israeli-campaign-mounts/7361700.html


[2] International Court of Justice. (2023). Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel).


[3] OHCHR. (2024, January 31). Gaza: ICJ ruling offers hope for protection of civilians enduring apocalyptic conditions, say UN experts.


[4] Human Rights Watch. (2024, January 26). Gaza: World Court Orders Israel to Prevent Genocide.


[5] Hassan, Z. (2024, January 18). Why the United States Can’t Ignore the ICJ Case Against Israel. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 


[6] OCHA. (2024, January 30). Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

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