Tom Unterrainer writes: Just weeks after hearing South Africa’s arguments for measures to halt Israel’s genocide on Palestine, the International Court of Justice voted overwhelmingly to request such steps. Stated in this way, the events in The Hague on 26 January 2024 may sound underwhelming. But make no mistake: although the court’s ruling will not immediately halt Israel’s genocidal assault, the ICJ’s decision is of vital importance for Gaza and the people of Palestine.
The ICJ has not ruled on whether Israel is carrying out genocide on the Palestinian people. This process and any such ruling may take years and years to emerge. The ICJ has not explicitly ordered a ceasefire but has requested that Israel take measures to prevent genocide or the possibility of genocide. South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, pointed out that to comply with this request, a ceasefire would be necessary.
Further, the Court ordered that Israel “take all measures to punish all public solicitations of genocide” and did so after the President of the Court, Joan Donoghue, quoted the Israeli President making such “public solicitations”. The Court also ordered steps to address “adverse conditions to life in Gaza” – lack of food, water, medicine etc… Finally, the Court ordered Israel to “preserve evidence” of genocide (ie. not to destroy evidence of their actions) and to report on their progress within a month.
Why did the ICJ make the decision it did? Because in the judgement of an international panel of legal experts, Israel’s acts have been deemed to plausibly constitute acts of genocide and in their judgement, Israel must act differently. The Court dismissed Israel’s attempt to argue technical points about whether a “dispute” actually existed between them and South Africa and took seriously the overwhelming evidence pointing towards genocide.
Contrast this judgement to the words and actions of the British government and those who support its policies. The British government has, in effect, been wilfully supporting Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. By refusing to put a name to what is happening, by continuing to fuel the Israeli army’s seemingly limitless need for weaponry and ammunition and in its attempts to undermine and smear those standing in solidarity with the people of Palestine, the British government has made itself complicit. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Leader of the Opposition – a onetime ‘Human Rights’ lawyer – has shamed himself again and again in refusing to condemn the unfolding horrors that were so obvious to everyone else with any sense of humanity. In the eyes of many, Keir Starmer is also complicit.
Although the ICJ has issued measures addressed to Israel as a State Party to the Court, Great Britain should be legally bound by the same measures. This should mean that Britain “takes measures to prevent genocide” with respect to its relations with Israel. When will Mr Sunak ban arms exports to Israel? When will the Leader of the Opposition call for such a ban? Will the British courts “punish all public solicitations of genocide” with respect to Israel’s actions against the Palestinians? Can we expect to see the British cheerleaders for Israel’s murderous actions in the dock any time soon?
Both scenarios are unlikely, just as it is unlikely that Israel will pay heed to measures ordered by the ICJ. After all, rogue states stick together. For instance, Lord Cameron – the unelected Foreign Secretary – has announced a U-turn and now refuses to allow the people of Chagos to return to their islands: in direct contravention of an ICJ ruling.
The ICJ has put the world on notice and the message is clear: Israel’s genocide must end. The message of recent history is also clear: Israel – like the United States and United Kingdom – will not comply with international law without mass mobilisations and sharp political interventions to force the issue.
This is why the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament calls on all of our members and supporters to take to the streets, with our friends from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to demand: Stop the Gaza Genocide. Ceasefire Now.