World reactions to the ICJ ruling

Haitham Nouri , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Al-Ahram Weekly gauges regional and international reactions to the International Court of Justice ruling on Israel’s war on Gaza.

World reactions to the ICJ ruling


Israel should “take all measures within its power” to prevent “the destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza” and allow “access to humanitarian assistance,” said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case brought against Israel on charges of committinggenocide in Gaza.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the court’s ruling as “outrageous,” South Africa hailed a “significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people”.

Palestine’s foreign minister said the ICJ had “ruled in favour of humanity and international law”.

ICJ President Joan Donoghue (a US judge) said that “Israel shall submit a report to the court on all measures taken to give effect to this order within one week… and thereafter at such regular intervals… until a final decision on the case is rendered by the court.”

The ICJ was founded after World War II to prevent the recurrence ofatrocities such as the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany against Europe’s Jews and other European minorities.

The ICJ accepted the lawsuit filed by South Africa against Israel accusing it of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip in the war that erupted on 7 October.

Israel has thus far killed over 26,000 Palestinians and injured over 70,000others. Some 80 percent of the Gaza Strip’s 2.4 million population, under siege since 2007 when the Palestinian group Hamas assumed power in the Strip, have been displaced.

“In the court’s view, 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,” Donoghue said.

The court acknowledged the right of Palestinians in Gaza to be safeguarded against acts of genocide. Donoghue stated that “Israel, its officials and/or agents, have acted with the intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza, part of a protected group under the Genocide Convention” issued in 1948.

The convention defines genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.”

It outlines acts of genocide to mean the killing of targeted group members, causing serious physical or mental harm, and intentionally creating conditions aimed at their destruction in whole or in part.

A substantial majority of the ICJ judges voted in favour of urgent measures, addressing most of South Africa’s requests. However, it did not issue an order to halt the Israeli war on Gaza.

The court comprises 15 judges, along with two judges representing the two states involved in the case, South Africa and Israel.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that “the ICJ order is an important reminder that no state is above the law. It should serve as a wake-up call for Israel and actors who enabled its entrenched impunity” represented by “decades of occupation, ethnic cleansing, persecution, and apartheid.”

Hamassaid that the ICJ decision was “an important development that contributes to isolating Israel and exposing its crimes.”

South Africa praised the court order, which it described as “a decisive victory for the rule of international law and a milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people.”

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said that South Africa sincerely hopes that Israel will not undermine the implementation of the order. “Israel cannot continue its crimes against Palestinian civilians without consequences,” she added.

“The mere claim that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians is not only false, it’s outrageous, and the willingness of the court to even discuss this is a disgrace that will not be erased for generations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“Like every country, Israel has a basic right to defend itself... The World Court in the Hague justly rejected the outrageous demand to deprive us of this right,” he added.

“Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to continue to defend our country and defend our people. Like every country, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself,” he continued.

“We will never forgive what the Hamas monsters did to our sons and daughters,” Netanyahu said.

The US disassociated itself from the stance of Donoghue and the court, contending that her positions do not reflect the opinion of the US administration.

“We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded and note the court did not make a finding about genocide or call for a ceasefire in its ruling and that it called for the unconditional, immediate release of all hostages being held by Hamas,” a State Department spokesperson said

Uganda, a historical supporter of Palestine, distanced itself from the position taken by its judge Julia Sebutinde, who voted against the provisional measures issued by the ICJ.

Permanent Representative of Uganda to the UN Adonia Ayebare tweeted that “Justice Sebutinde’s ruling at the ICJ does not represent the government of Uganda’s position on the situation in Palestine… Uganda’s support for the plight of the Palestinian people has been expressed through our voting pattern at the United Nations.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the ICJ ruling, stressing the importance of implementing the order. However, it expressed frustration that the ICJ did not call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, a step taken in similar cases.

Algeria, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, urged the holding of a Security Council session to give “binding force” to the ruling. The Algerian Foreign Ministry stated that the session is expected to convene on Wednesday.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry welcomed the order to “halt any practices and statements aimed at genocide against the Palestinian people in the besieged Gaza Strip.”

Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs hailed the decision as “historic,”highlighting the court’s recognition of Israel’s commission of the crime of genocide in Gaza.

Jordan stressed the importance of immediate procedural measures, including halting Israel from committing crimes against Palestinians, ensuring their protection from physical or moral harm, and preventing harsh living conditions that aim at their physical destruction. It also emphasised the need for providing essential humanitarian needs.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry “welcomes the temporary measures mandated by the ICJ,” a spokesperson said, deeming them a victory for “humanity, the rule of law, and international justice.”

The court order “serves as a stark acknowledgement of the grave threat of genocide looming over the Palestinian population in Gaza,” it said.

In a tweet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed as “valuable” the ICJ order.

France said that the ICJ ruling strengthens its commitment to working for a ceasefire in Gaza, adding that proving intent is necessary to be charged with the crime of genocide under the Genocide Convention.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that “we welcome the decision of the International Court of Justice and call on the parties to implement the interim measures it has decreed.”

He reiterated Spain’s commitment to defending peace, ending the war in Gaza, freeing the hostages, facilitating humanitarian aid, and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel with a view to peaceful coexistence.

The European Union noted that ICJ decisions are binding on the parties involved, saying that it expected their complete, immediate, and effective implementation.

“The UK continues to support Israel’s right to defend itselfagainst Hamas terrorism,” the UK Foreign Office said.

“Our view is that Israel’s actions in Gaza cannot be described as genocide, which is why we thought South Africa’s decision to bring the case was wrong and provocative,” it said.

By virtue of the ICJ order, Israel must submit a detailed report on what has been accomplished on the ground to alleviate the painful humanitarian conditions of Gaza residents.

Otherwise, the case could be referred to the UN Security Council and General Assembly, which would take a decision in the event of any failure to implement the ICJ order.

However, returning to the UN Security Council would make the case subject to a US veto, which Washington has used several times since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, and thus risk returning the situation to square one.

If this happens, the UN will be in a critical position, given that the ICJ is its main legal instance and highest judicial authority.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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