Momentous ruling: On Israel and the International Court of Justice order

Israel must comply with ICJ’s order to prevent genocide, step up aid in Gaza

January 29, 2024 12:10 am | Updated 12:29 am IST

Despite the absence of an explicit call for a ceasefire, the ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice is a momentous one that binds Israel to its obligation to prevent acts of genocide in its ongoing military operations in Gaza. The UN’s highest judicial body has spelt out provisional measures after finding that “at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the [Genocide] Convention”. South Africa, which took on the extraordinary responsibility of making Israel accountable for its violations of humanitarian law, stands vindicated as the ICJ accepted its standing to approach the court and found its preliminary submissions tenable. The ICJ has directed Israel to take effective and immediate measures to ensure humanitarian assistance and basic services to Gaza. While Israel and its allies highlight the absence of an order to stop military action, it cannot be ignored that the order is tailored to achieving the objective of preventing genocide, a term that includes killing members of the targeted group, Palestinians, in this case causing serious bodily and mental harm to them and deliberately inflicting on them conditions of life aimed at bringing about the group’s physical destruction. The order is a moral and legal indictment of Israel for bombing health facilities, designated safe areas, and densely populated areas.

That most of the provisional measures were favoured by a 15-2 majority shows a high degree of consensus on steps to prevent genocide. A blanket order for cessation of hostilities may have been divisive — not many may agree that there can be no military response to a terrorist attack by non-state armed actors — and render it easy to ignore. The order makes it difficult for Israel to choose a policy of deliberate non-compliance. The world should goad Israel into complying with the measures, while carrying out legitimate military operations. Its leaders should avoid statements that may be seen as inciting genocide. The part of the ruling that asks for a report in one month on steps taken to implement the measures can only mean that Israel has to demonstrate progress on the extent of humanitarian aid it has permitted. An unfortunate development, with a suspicious immediacy after the ICJ order, is the suspension of global aid to the UNRWA, based on an Israeli allegation that 12 staffers were involved in the October 7 attack. This is no time to defund or wind down humanitarian work in Gaza even as a probe into their role is necessary.

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