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ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza and allow in aid

The Hague-based court gives an interim ruling on provisional measures put forward by South Africa in the genocide case against Israel
A demonstrator waves the Palestinian flag in front of the Peace Palace ahead of the ICJ verdict, The Hague, 26 January 2024 (Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has delivered an interim ruling calling on Israel to refrain from impeding the delivery of aid into Gaza and improve the humanitarian situation. 

It also ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide in the besieged enclave and to punish incitement to genocide.

However, it did not order Israel to halt military operations in Gaza, one of South Africa's key demands in the case it brought to The Hague earlier this month.

“The court recalls that its orders on provisional measures have binding effect and thus create international legal obligations for any party to whom the provisional measures are addressed," the court said on Friday, adding that Israel would be obliged to report to the court within a month on what it was doing to uphold the measures.

It also called for the release of captives taken by Hamas during its 7 October attack in southern Israel.

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While the court is not expected for some time to rule on whether Israel is committing genocide in its war on the besieged enclave, it ruled on Friday on several of the nine interim measures South Africa requested.

The nine interim measures requested by South Africa included an immediate cessation of military operations in Gaza, preventing forcible displacement of Palestinians, ceasing any restrictions on humanitarian aid entering the enclave, refraining from committing genocide and inciting it, and preventing the destruction of evidence of alleged crimes in Gaza. 

The ICJ only has jurisdiction over states, and can therefore give orders to Israel, but not to Hamas, a non-state entity. 

Friday's ruling by the ICJ is legally binding. However, there is little The Hague-based court can do to enforce compliance. 

States could potentially call on the UN Security Council to implement separate sanctions on Israel if it failed to comply with the ICJ's orders. 

The Israeli government has previously said that not even The Hague could stop it from restoring “security to both the south and the north” of the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the ICJ ruling on Friday in a video message. 

He said that the ruling amounted to "discrimination" as Israel was fighting a “just war like no other” and would continue to “defend itself".

Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, a lecturer in International Relations at King's College London, told Middle East Eye that the court had "stayed within expectations" by not ordering a complete ceasefire.

"It did, however, grant several other provisional measures by an overwhelming majority. Thus, its order, while not very detailed and not as specific or bold as some had hoped, is a refutation of Israel’s claim that there is no risk of genocide in Gaza," he said.

"This, in itself, is a remarkable development in the conflict."

'Hague Schmague'

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a televised speech on Friday that he welcomed the ruling.

Gaza war: Why did Arab states not join South Africa's case against Israel in the ICJ?
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"The ICJ judges assessed the facts and the law, they ruled in favor of humanity and international law," he said.

He said Palestine called on all states to ensure the measures ordered by the court were implemented "including by Israel, the occupying power".

A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, also told Reuters on Friday that Israel must implement the ICJ’s court decisions.

He added that the ICJ’s decision was an important development that contributed to isolating Israel and exposing its crimes in Gaza. 

For his part, Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted on social media: "Hague Schmague".

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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