The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a preliminary ruling ordering Israel to take immediate measures to ensure it is not committing genocide in the Gaza Strip and to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the region. ICJ President Joan Donoghue read out the court’s preliminary ruling on January 26, stressing the need for Israel to address the adverse conditions faced by Palestinians.
However, the court did not grant South Africa’s request for a cease-fire. South Africa had sought provisional measures, including a cease-fire, as a matter of extreme urgency, but the court did not address this point in its ruling.
Israel has vehemently denied the accusation that it is committing genocide in Gaza and has been ordered to report within one month on the measures it has taken to uphold the ICJ’s ruling. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the accusation, calling it “outrageous.”
The court also expressed grave concern about the hostages taken by Hamas back into Gaza after the attack and urged extremists and other armed groups to release those being held without conditions.
Legal experts have noted that the comparison of Israel’s situation to Russia’s war in Ukraine did not gain traction with the court. The ruling allows Israel to continue its military operations in Gaza, and a decision on the broader allegations of genocide is expected to take years.
South Africa accused Israel of committing “systematic” acts of genocide in the conflict and called the ICJ’s ruling a decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people.
Oona Hathaway, a law professor at Yale University, acknowledged that the ruling fell short of imposing a cease-fire but noted that the court “got as close to doing so as it was ever reasonable to expect it would.”
The case has put a spotlight on South Africa’s long-standing support for Palestinian rights, with even Nelson Mandela once expressing that his country’s freedom would be “incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
It is important to note that decisions by the ICJ cannot be appealed, but the court itself has no means to enforce its rulings. Previous orders by the ICJ, such as the one for Russia to halt its military operations in Ukraine, have been noted to have had no effect.
With reporting by RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak.