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UN Court Demands Israel Prevent Genocide in Gaza – What Happens Next?

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In a landmark decision on Friday, January 26, 2024, the United Nations’ top court ruled that Israel must take immediate action to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and facilitate urgently needed humanitarian aid to address the adverse conditions faced by Palestinians in the besieged territory. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down the rulings in a case brought by South Africa, accusing Israel of breaching the UN Genocide Convention.

The court urged Israel to refrain from any potential genocidal acts during its military operations in the Gaza Strip but did not issue a cease-fire order. The decision emphasized that Israel must implement effective measures to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the challenging living conditions for Palestinians.

While the ICJ clarified that it was not currently assessing whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, it warned Israel to take all necessary measures to prevent acts falling under the UN Genocide Convention. The court also emphasized Israel’s obligation to prevent and punish any incitement to genocide.

During the hearings at the Peace Palace earlier this month, South Africa accused Israel of engaging in “genocidal” acts with the intention of destroying a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group. The plea urged the court to order an immediate suspension of Israel’s military operations in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians.

Israel dismissed the case as a “grossly distorted story” and argued that any alleged genocidal acts were in response to the October 7 Hamas attacks. Tal Becker, Israel’s top lawyer, asserted that Israel’s operations in Gaza aimed to protect its people rather than destroy a people.

The court’s rulings are legally binding, but it lacks mechanisms for enforcement, raising questions about whether Israel will comply. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted that Israel may not abide by the ruling, stating, “no one will stop us,” even in the face of a verdict in The Hague.

Despite potential challenges in enforcement, experts suggest the ruling could have a significant symbolic impact, making it harder for other states to support Israel in the face of a neutral third party finding a risk of genocide. Some anticipate tangible consequences on the ground, with states possibly reconsidering military or other support for Israel.

The October 7 Hamas attack resulted in the death of approximately 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli figures. In Gaza, at least 26,083 Palestinians, with around 70 percent being women, young children, and adolescents, have been killed in Israeli bombardments and ground offensives since then, according to the Hamas government’s health ministry. The court’s decision adds another layer of complexity to an already sensitive and longstanding conflict.

Image by hosny salah from Pixabay

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