What will be the effect of momentous world court ruling? Article by Chris Doyle in Arab News, 29 January 2024
Far too many viewers, listeners and readers in Western states would not have been fully informed about Israel’s loss at the International Court of Justice last Friday. Much of the media ignored or downplayed the rulings of the paramount judicial body in international law when it found that there were plausible grounds to consider that Israel’s conduct against Palestinians in Gaza could amount to the crime of genocide and ordered a series of provisional measures.
There are few crimes graver than genocide, which is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. The international court determined that, for the purposes of the Genocide Convention, the Palestinians of Gaza constitute a people. This will infuriate the many Israeli leaders and politicians, both past and present, who deny that the Palestinian people even exist. The court said they do exist and that they may be at risk of being erased.
Moreover, this was not a close decision. It was a clear-cut vote from the judges, either 15-2 or 16-1, with even the Israeli ad hoc judge voting in favor in two cases. Many expected the court to be far more divided.
It will be several years before the court reaches an ultimate determination as to whether Israel’s actions constitute genocide, but Tel Aviv is now on trial for that crime. Every action it takes in Gaza has to be assessed. So, if it strikes another hospital, is this a single act or pattern of behavior?
Palestinians are widely bemoaning the court’s failure to order an immediate ceasefire. One can understand why, given the huge loss of life, destruction and starvation they are enduring. Looking at the situation on the ground, how can any right-thinking person wish to see this carnage continue for one moment longer? Moreover, having determined that a genocide could be occurring, should the court not be ordering every possible measure to stop it?
Various reasons have been cited as to why this was the case. Hamas is not a state and not a party to the Genocide Convention, so the court has no authority over it. It also agreed that Israel did have the right to take action after the atrocities of Oct. 7, which few deny.
One should not belittle the momentous nature of these rulings and the knock-on impact they should have.
Firstly, it will be hard, if not impossible, to implement the orders of the court without there being an immediate ceasefire. This is the view of, for example, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. You cannot provide humanitarian aid in Gaza while it is under bombardment, so a cessation of Israeli attacks is essential.
Secondly, the rulings may have a chilling effect on diplomats, officials and military personnel in states that are actively aiding and abetting Israel, and specifically those that supply Israel with weapons. These people should be asking if any of their actions might make them complicit in a potential genocide.
What about the Israeli reaction? Despite their public outbursts, the Israeli leaders must be rattled. The cozy existence in which they enjoyed complete impunity has been, if not shattered, at least rocked. The Israeli defense against the charge of genocide was lamentable. On the one hand, its spokespeople claimed that the international court is the legal arm of Hamas. On the other, Israel won because the court did not order a ceasefire. Netanyahu was in full global gaslighting mode when he claimed that “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering.” If only.
Will Israel adhere to any of the orders? Will Israel agree to provide a report on its progress within a month? Very unlikely. More likely, Israeli leaders may start limiting the bombardment of Gaza and permit more humanitarian aid into the Strip to lower the international pressure.
As for the reaction of Israel’s allies, the US, UK and others have refused to demand that Israel adhere to the rulings. The accusations of double standards are overwhelming. When the court ordered provisional measures in the case against Myanmar, the UK welcomed the decision and asserted that Myanmar must do more “to protect the Rohingya.” In the case of Israel, the British government stated: “We respect the role and independence of the ICJ. However, we have stated that we have considerable concerns about this case, which is not helpful in the goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire.”
Instead, at least 10 donor states have suspended funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency after it dismissed several employees on the basis of allegations, not proven claims, that they participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. Was this a punishment for the temerity of South Africa in taking Israel to the world court? Who knows? But it is punishing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, who are already on the cusp of death by bombing, starvation and disease.
While UNRWA is punished as a result of mere allegations, Israel is exonerated of all charges by the US and others before an investigation has even properly begun. In its more than 110 days of bombardment of Gaza, Israel has not been held to account once. For example, I have yet to hear one American or British leader condemn the public incitement to genocide from Israeli leaders. The court ordered Israel to investigate and punish such statements.
The rest of the world is looking on aghast. How did the US and its allies react to these allegations? It suspended funding. How has the US reacted to the International Court of Justice’s ruling that there are plausible grounds that Israel is committing genocide? Nothing. Did the US or the UK say they would be suspending the sale of arms and the massive bombs that have been used in the Gaza Strip to destroy civilian infrastructure? Not a bit.
Attention will this week turn to the UN Security Council. Algeria is pursuing a case there “in order to activate the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the provisional measures imposed on the Israeli occupation.” Will the US veto a resolution calling for the court’s orders to be implemented? How will Britain and France vote?
The ruling should also push the International Criminal Court to expedite its investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by any party in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Delay is inexcusable and questions must be asked why this is not proceeding faster.
At the optimistic end of the spectrum — if there is one — perhaps even Israel’s most ardent backers will conclude that a proper ceasefire is overdue. The international court may not have ordered one directly, but perhaps it has made a ceasefire more likely.