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The ICJ’s Landmark Ruling and Its Implications for Gaza and International Law

Seeking Justice Amid Conflict

(27 Jan 2024) In a defining moment for international jurisprudence and human rights, the International Court of Justice’s interim ruling on the Gaza conflict spotlights the urgent humanitarian crisis and reinvigorates the call for justice. This article delves into the ICJ’s decision, the global reactions it has sparked, and the profound implications for the future of the Israel-Palestine conflict, seen through the lens of South African and Palestinian advocacy for peace and legal accountability.

ICJ’s Interim Ruling on South Africa’s Case Against Israel

With the official death toll as of today being 26,083 according to the Gaza-health ministry, a significant interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) marks a new chapter in the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, mandating Israel to take comply with specific provisional measures in Gaza. The court, acting on a case brought by South Africa, ordered Israel to prevent any acts of genocide against Palestinians and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip. This ruling, while falling short of South Africa’s request for a complete cessation of military operations in Gaza, underscores the court’s recognition of the gravity of the situation. The ICJ stressed the binding nature of its provisional measures, imposing upon Israel the obligation to report back on its compliance within a month. Additionally, the court called for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups, highlighting the complex dynamics at play in this conflict.” [1]

Reactions and Challenges Following ICJ’s Ruling

Responding to the International Court of Justice’s landmark decision, South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, expressed a pragmatic stance. “I am not ‘disappointed’ by the world court’s measures,” she stated, indicating an understanding of the ICJ’s limitations while highlighting the necessity of a ceasefire for these measures to be effective. This response underscores the complex interplay between international legal rulings and the realities of geopolitical conflicts. The ICJ’s inability to enforce its rulings presents a significant challenge. As a MEE article notes, “[w]hile rulings from the ICJ are legally binding, the court cannot enforce them, as no mechanism can be used to force compliance.” This raises questions about the practical impact of the court’s decisions, especially in the volatile context of the Gaza conflict. The potential for a United States veto at the United Nations Security Council further complicates the enforcement scenario, given the historical context of Israel’s past noncompliance with similar international rulings. Juliette McIntyre, a lecturer in law at the University of South Australia, emphasizes the provisional nature of the ruling: “At this stage, it means only that South Africa has established that there is a plausible risk of genocide, not that there is genocide.” [1]

Details of the ICJ Ruling and Immediate Reactions

The International Court of Justice’s ruling, did not call for a ceasefire in Gaza, a point that has been a focus of much attention. The court asserted its jurisdiction and ruled that Israel must take various measures to prevent genocide, including allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza and preventing incitement to genocide. Judge Joan Donoghue emphasized the evidence sufficiency for investigating the genocide case. South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, in her response, stressed the need for movement towards a two-state solution, expressing hopes that Israel’s “powerful friends” would advise compliance with the court’s order.[2]

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir sharply criticized the ruling, calling the court “antisemitic” and asserting that Israel should not heed decisions threatening its existence. He emphasized the need to continue military actions until victory is achieved. On the other side, Hamas called on the international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with the court’s decisions and highlighted the ruling as a pathway for accountability for Israeli leaders in the International Criminal Court.[2]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki welcomed the provisional measures and emphasized the binding nature of the court’s decision, calling for global enforcement. He expressed gratitude to South Africa for its solidarity and affirmed the Palestinian commitment to working with countries supporting their cause.

Broader Reactions and Critiques

The response from advocacy groups like CAGE International and the Islamic Human Rights Commission reflects a broader spectrum of opinion. CAGE International, while welcoming attempts to halt genocide, criticized the ICJ’s failure to mandate an immediate ceasefire, pointing to the Court’s vulnerability to political pressure and the likelihood of Israel and its western allies ignoring such orders. The group called for heightened activism to expose the complicity and hypocrisy in sustaining the conflict.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission was more critical, arguing that the ruling fell short of what is necessary to restrain Israel’s actions. They expressed concern about the international justice system’s effectiveness, highlighting Israel’s historical non-compliance with UN resolutions. These critiques underscore the complexities and frustrations inherent in international legal processes and the diverse perspectives on the conflict.

Humanitarian Impact and Global Response Favoring South Africa/Palestine

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict, has become a focal point of international concern, aligning with the perspectives of South Africa and Palestine. The devastating toll of the conflict on civilians, particularly women and children, has been highlighted by numerous reports and statements. This situation has galvanized a global response that leans towards the South Africa/Palestinian position, emphasizing the urgent need for humanitarian aid and a cessation of hostilities. The international community’s call for Israel to allow unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance resonates deeply with the plea from South Africa and Palestine for immediate relief measures.

The Quest for Justice and International Solidarity

The pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people, a cornerstone of South Africa’s case against Israel, has found resonance in various international forums. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki’s appreciation of South Africa’s “bold step of active solidarity” echoes a growing sentiment among nations sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This solidarity is not just a diplomatic stance but also reflects a commitment to uphold international law and human rights principles. The global reaction, especially from countries and organizations advocating for Palestinian rights, reinforces the notion that the plight of the Palestinian people and their quest for justice cannot be ignored in international discourse.[2]

The Path Forward and the Role of International Advocacy

As the ICJ’s ruling opens a new chapter in this long-standing conflict, it also paves the way for increased international advocacy. Organizations like CAGE International and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, despite their critiques of the ruling’s limitations, underscore the importance of continued vigilance and activism. Their calls for heightened awareness and action reflect a broader movement seeking to address the root causes of the conflict and support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice. This global advocacy is seen as crucial in maintaining international pressure and ensuring that the voices of the Palestinian people are heard and acted upon in the quest for a lasting and just resolution to the conflict.

Emphasizing the South African and Palestinian Perspective in Future Implications

“The ICJ’s interim ruling is more than a procedural step; it’s a beacon of hope for justice,” as echoed by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, who emphasized the binding nature of the court’s decision. This ruling marks a significant acknowledgment of the grievances raised by Palestine, reflecting a potential turning point in international recognition of their plight. Al-Maliki’s statement, “It should serve as a wake-up call for Israel and actors who enabled its entrenched impunity,” underlines the importance of this decision in setting a precedent for future actions under the Genocide Convention and for international law’s role in conflicts.[2]

Diplomatic and Political Change Favoring South Africa/Palestine

The ICJ’s decision may catalyze critical diplomatic and political changes, echoing the aspirations of South Africa and Palestine for a peaceful resolution and justice. Naledi Pandor’s call for a two-state solution reflects a broader desire within the international community for a sustainable and just resolution to the conflict. This perspective could inspire new diplomatic efforts and reinvigorate peace talks. The response of Israel’s Western allies to the ruling is crucial, as it could influence a shift in policy and support for the Palestinian cause, aligning more closely with the principles of international law and human rights.

Aligning with International Law and Human Rights

This development is a pivotal moment in the context of international law and human rights, especially from the South African and Palestinian viewpoint. The involvement of the ICJ underscores the critical role of legal mechanisms in addressing international conflicts and protecting human rights. While the enforcement of the court’s rulings remains a challenge, the global response to this decision, including advocacy, diplomatic pressure, and humanitarian aid, will reflect the commitment to the principles that South Africa and Palestine are championing. This situation is a litmus test for the international community’s dedication to upholding justice and human rights, especially for those in vulnerable situations like the Palestinians.

[1] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/war-gaza-what-happens-after-icj-interim-ruling-south-africa-case-israel

[2] https://5pillarsuk.com/2024/01/26/international-court-of-justice-fails-to-call-for-gaza-ceasefire/

Tariq Kurd was born and grew up in Hertfordshire. His family is originally from Halabja, Kurdistan but due to periodic migration currently reside across the Baluchistan region.
He has a BA Hons. in History from the Open University. Besides English, Tariq can speak Baluchi and Brahvi, he is also conversant in Persian and Pashto.
His has an eclectic range of interests including military and tribal history. Tariq lives in London and is currently studying Islamic apologetics through the Sapience Institute.