Israel on Trial

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to prevent any acts of genocide against the Palestinians and do more to help suffering civilians. However, it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by South Africa, which filed the case. And quite expectedly South Africa’s initiative to isolate Israel internationally has been widely appreciated by the people in the global South.

Palestinians said the World Court let them down by failing to order a halt to the Israeli military offensive on Gaza, but they also described the proceedings as a victory which has inspired hope of accountability.

In a nearly unanimous vote, the court’s international panel of 17 judges ordered that Israel must do everything it can to prevent acts of genocide, clampdown on domestic incitement to genocide and ensure immediate and effective humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza. But the all important January 16 ruling of the ICJ is just beginning of the case. It will take years of litigation over jurisdiction and the ultimate merits of South Africa’s claim of genocide. And by that time how many more Palestinians will be devastated by the Israeli Defence Forces is anybody’s guess.

The Israeli assault in response to attacks by Hamas on October 7 in which 1, 200 people were killed and around 250 abducted, according to Israeli figures, has laid waste to much of the Gaza strip and uprooted most of its 2.3 million inhabitants. At the time of writing more than 100 people are still in the custody of Hamas while chiefs of CIA and Mossad were negotiating in Egypt over the hostage deal. Hamas wants permanent ceasefire but Israel is ready to concede a two-month humanitarian pause. As a result no deal was scripted to give peace a chance, albeit all the concerned parties hoped somewhat against hope that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

The war has already killed more than 27,000 Palestinians in just four months, most women and children, and wounded more than 64,000 others. The death toll also includes 150 UN aid workers and dozens of journalists. Thousands of children are without guardians--they are war orphans. The Russia-Ukraine war cost about 10,000 people in one year.

The top court, however, has rejected South Africa’s claims that Israel has committed genocide.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the ICJ's decision not to order a ceasefire but rejected the claim of genocide as "outrageous" and said Israel would continue to defend itself. Israel says it makes the utmost efforts to avoid civilian casualties. But the ground reality tells a different story. They are now carrying military operations in the West Bank as well. No doubt the ICJ ruling represents a legal setback for Israel but Palestinians need peace and space to rebuild their shattered lives.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority said Palestinians had hoped the ruling would include an immediate ceasefire. Anyway, the decision "confirms the end of Israel's time with impunity and puts it in the dock as a war criminal".

The court did not rule at this stage on the core of the case brought by South Africa - whether genocide has occurred in Gaza. But the ICJ’s acceptance of the case “means putting Israel on trial for its crime for the first time”.

Palestinians see the UN court verdict as both win and setback.

Meanwhile, Israel’s allegations that 12 employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were involved in the October 7 attack, have led several donor countries, including the major donors like the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Finland to suspend aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says two million Palestinians in Gaza, or 87 percent of the populations rely on UNRWA services that would be scaled back immediately, if the money is not restored. Many more Palestinians will die of hunger and disease, not Israeli bullet.


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Vol 56, No. 34, Feb 18 - 24, 2024