The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest court, could potentially issue emergency measures instructing Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza. This comes as part of a case initiated by South Africa, accusing Israel of committing genocide. The case, which began two weeks ago, has seen both nations testify, with Israel firmly denying the allegations. Although a ruling against Israel would not be legally enforceable by the court, it could carry significant political implications.
According to the health ministry in Gaza, run by Hamas, over 25,000 Palestinians, primarily women and children, have been killed and tens of thousands injured since Israel initiated its offensive. This was triggered by an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel, which resulted in approximately 1,300 deaths, mainly civilians, and around 250 hostages taken back to Gaza.
South Africa, a strong supporter of the Palestinians, has requested the court to issue nine provisional measures, including a halt to Israel’s military activity. However, a ruling on the genocide accusation is not expected for possibly years.
Israel has responded with indignation to the genocide allegation, accusing South Africa of misrepresenting the truth. It maintains that it is targeting Hamas fighters, not Palestinian civilians, and has requested the judges to dismiss South Africa’s request.
The 17 judges of the ICJ must determine whether South Africa’s claim against Israel falls under the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention and whether there is a plausible risk of irreparable harm to the Palestinian people in Gaza if Israel’s military action continues.
While the ICJ can issue advisory opinions and its rulings are theoretically legally binding, they are not enforceable by the court. If the ruling is against Israel, it is likely to be disregarded. However, it could increase political pressure on Israel to seek a ceasefire and on its international allies to facilitate a resolution and ensure humanitarian aid reaches those in need.