ICJ fails to order ceasefire, but says Israel must prevent genocide in Gaza

Provisional court ruling calls for emergency measures, says Israel must ‘prevent and punish’ incitement to commit genocide.

Pro-Palestinian activists wave flags during session of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands on January 26, 2024. [Patrick Post/AP]Published On 26 Jan 202426 Jan 2024

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to take action to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire South Africa had requested.

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 an overwhelming majority of its 17 judges presiding over the case voted on Friday for the emergency measures to be implemented.

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Delivering its interim ruling, the court said Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide, prevent incitement to commit genocide, allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and bring more measures to protect Palestinians, which it called a protected group under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The ruling also called for Israel to report to the court in one month on its steps to implement the measures.

However, it did not order a cessation of hostilities in Gaza, where Israel’s military action has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians since the war began on October 7.

Delivering the judgement, Court President Joan E Donoghue said there is sufficient evidence of dispute for the genocide case to proceed, and that the ICJ has the jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

In the meantime, until a final ruling is delivered, she said the court was “of the view that Israel must take measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide”.

‘Decrease tensions’

Fifteen of the 17 judges voted for all the emergency measures to be implemented. Uganda’s Julia Sebutinde was the only judge to vote against all the measures.

Israeli judge Aharon Barak, one of the judges sitting at The Hague, said, “Although I am convinced there is no plausibility of genocide,” he voted for two of the measures.

He said he joined the majority “in the hope that the measure will help to decrease tensions and discourage damaging rhetoric”.

Barak added he voted in favour of the measure on getting aid to Gaza in the hope that it “will alleviate the consequences of the armed conflict for the most vulnerable”.

Thomas Macmanus, a law professor at Queen Mary University in London, told Al Jazeera he was not surprised that the court did not ask for a ceasefire because, in a way, it would “render Israel defenceless against an attack, and that’s not really within the purview of the court in this case”.

“But what they are asking … they asked to stop the killing,” he said.

“Maybe not a total cessation of hostility, and maybe now Israel can have very targeted counterterrorism operations, but they cannot continue with the attack on Gaza as we have seen over the last hundred or more days,” he added.

A ‘decisive victory’

South Africa hailed the decision and called it a “decisive victory” for international law.

“South Africa sincerely hopes that Israel will not act to frustrate the application of this Order, as it has publicly threatened to do, but that it will instead act to comply with it fully, as it is bound to do,” South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement.

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyadh Maliki issued a statement on the ruling and welcomed the order, calling it an “important reminder” that no one is above the law.

“It breaks Israel’s entrenched culture of criminality and impunity, which has characterised its decades-long occupation, dispossession, persecution, and apartheid in Palestine,” he said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters news agency that the ruling was a significant development that contributed to isolating Israel and exposing its crimes in Gaza. “We call for forcing the occupation to implement the court’s decisions,” he added.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the ruling and reiterated that Israel had an “inherent right to defend itself” and that the “vile attempt” to deny this right was “blatant discrimination against the Jewish state”.

While the ICJ’s decisions are final and cannot be appealed, the court also cannot enforce the measures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies