World court stuns Israel with unlikely rebuke

Published May 25, 2024
(FROM right) Judges Dire Tladi, Sarah Cleveland, Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brant, Georg Nolte, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf and Nawaf Salam rise during a hearing at the ICJ.—AFP
(FROM right) Judges Dire Tladi, Sarah Cleveland, Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brant, Georg Nolte, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf and Nawaf Salam rise during a hearing at the ICJ.—AFP

• International Court of Justice says situation in Gaza has deteriorated, orders immediate halt to military operation in southern city
• Palestinian leaders, allies hail move; South Africa calls on all UN members to enforce international law
• Hamas says ruling should apply to whole of besieged Gaza Strip, promises cooperation with
investigation committees

THE HAGUE: The top UN court on Friday ordered Israel to immediately halt its military operations in Rafah, a landmark ruling likely to increase mounting international pressure on Israel more than seven months into its invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The International Court of Justice, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, also ordered Israel to keep open the crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which was closed earlier this month at the start of its assault on Rafah.

An earlier interim ruling by the court had stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza, but instructed Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocidal acts.

The ICJ is a general court for the settlement of disputes between states and can accept cases regarding any question of international law, concerned with state responsibility rather than individual culpability.

In the keenly awaited order issued on Friday, the ICJ said Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel must “maintain open the Rafah crossing for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance”, the UN court added.

The court also ordered the release of prisoners still held in Gaza and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

The order emphasised that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated since March. “The military ground offensive in Rafah, which Israel started on May 7, is still ongoing and has led to new evacuation orders,” it said, adding that at least 0.8 million people had been displaced from the area as of last week.

The court was also “not convinced that the evacuation efforts and related measures that Israel affirms to have undertaken… are sufficient to alleviate the immense risk to which the Palestinian population is exposed as a result of the military offensive in Rafah”.

“The Court is also of the view that the provisional measures indicated in its Order of March 28, 2024, as well as those reaffirmed therein, do not fully address the consequences arising from the change in the situation, thus justifying the modification of these measures. The Court further considers that, on the basis of the information before it, the immense risks associated with a military offensive in Rafah have started to materialise and will intensify even further if the operation continues,” the ruling said.

Ruling hailed

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ICJ order, saying it represents an international consensus to end the war in Gaza.

Hamas also issued a statement welcoming the decision, but said the ruling fell short of recognising that other parts of the enclave are under attack.

“What is happening in Jabalia and other parts of this (northern) sector is no less criminal and dangerous than what’s happening in Rafah,” it said.

“We believe it is not enough since the occupation’s aggression across the Gaza Strip, especially in northern Gaza, is just as brutal and dangerous,” Reuters quoted senior Hamas official Basem Naim as saying.

Hamas also called on the United Nations Security Council to implement the decision, adding that the group welcomed the court’s

request to allow investigation committees to reach the Gaza Strip to probe allegations of genocide against the Palestinian people, and pledged to cooperate with the committees.

Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour told reporters at UN headquarters in New York they expected the resolutions of the ICJ be implemented without hesitation as they were mandatory, and Israel was party to the convention. South Africa, which brought a genocide case against Israel before the world court, welcomed the order and urged other UN member states to back it.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa was “really pleased” that the court had heeded its call and argued that its case “is getting stronger and stronger by the day, that a genocide is underway”.

But she warned that Israel is unlikely to heed the order, arguing it was time for UN members and the Security Council to step up and enforce international law.

“Israel has had impunity for so long that they don’t care what the global community says,” she said. “So I think the responsibility goes to us a member states of the United Nations and most particularly to the Security Council,” she said.

Israel’s reaction

Insisting its military operations in Rafah were in line with international law, Israel said on Friday that its actions in Rafah do not “risk the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population”.

A joint statement from National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and the foreign ministry spokesperson said Israel would continue to keep the Rafah crossing open for humanitarian assistance from Egypt “and will prevent terror groups from controlling the passage”.

Meanwhile, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he would consult senior ministers after the UN’s top court ordered Israel to immediately halt its military operation in the Gaza city of Rafah.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said: “Those who demand that the state of Israel stop the war... We will not agree to that.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid rejected the comparison between the leaders of Israel and Hamas, while cabinet minister Benny Gantz said the country would “continue operating in accordance with international law wherever we might operate”.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

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