What the ICJ’s interim verdict on ‘Gaza genocide’ means for Palestine, Israel and South Africa

Special What the ICJ’s interim verdict on ‘Gaza genocide’ means for Palestine, Israel and South Africa
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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rejoice outside the World Court in The Hague on Jan. 26, 2024, as judges rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide. (REUTERS)
Special What the ICJ’s interim verdict on ‘Gaza genocide’ means for Palestine, Israel and South Africa
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An Israeli tank guards a position as Palestinians flee Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Palestinians carry some belongings as they flee Khan Younis to safer areas in the southern Gaza Strip through on January 26, 2024, amid continuing Israeli bombardment. (AFP)
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Smoke billows over buildings is Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on January 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2024
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What the ICJ’s interim verdict on ‘Gaza genocide’ means for Palestine, Israel and South Africa

What the ICJ’s interim verdict on ‘Gaza genocide’ means for Palestine, Israel and South Africa
  • Palestinians called the ruling a ‘pivotal moment’ in the journey towards justice, while Israel branded it ‘outrageous’
  • However, experts ask why the ICJ did not call for a Gaza ceasefire despite doing so in the cases of Ukraine and Myanmar

LONDON: Stopping short of demanding an immediate end to Israel’s military action in Gaza, the UN’s top court has confirmed the validity of South Africa’s claim that the besieged Palestinian enclave may be in the midst of a genocide.

By a majority of 15 to two, a panel of judges at the International Court of Justice on Friday confirmed its jurisdiction to hear South Africa’s case in full, denying Israel’s request that the case be thrown out.

While only an interim verdict, with the case expected to last several years, the immediate ramifications of the ICJ’s provisional ruling are already being felt, with Palestinian politicians celebrating the decision as a “pivotal moment in the long journey toward justice and accountability.




Pro-Palestinian supporters gathered at the Embassy of Palestine in Pretoria on January 26, 2024, rejoice after watching the International Court of Justice delivering its decision on the case against Israel brought by South Africa in The Hague. (AFP) 

“The case brought by South Africa has forensically detailed Israel’s actions and its intent to commit genocide in Gaza,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said in a statement.

“The court has delivered its verdict to stop Israel from killing Palestinians, end incitement to genocide and allow in the desperately needed humanitarian aid to a displaced population starving and under siege and bombardment.”

And in a video posted on social media shortly after the ruling, Riyad Al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said that the decision was an “important reminder that no state is above the law.”

 

 

Delivering the verdict, the court’s president, Judge Joan Donoghue, said: “The court is aware of the human tragedy in the region. The plight of children is particularly heart-breaking. An entire generation of children in Gaza is traumatized. Their future is in jeopardy.”

The court also ordered Palestinian militant group Hamas to return the remaining 140 hostages who were captured during the Oct. 7 attack, in which 1,200 people were killed.




People gather at the Bertha House in Cape Town on January 26, 2024, to watch the World Court ruling of the case brought against Israel by South Africa in The Hague. (AFP)

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, called the ICJ’s decision a “disgrace that will not be erased for generations.”

Writing on the social media platform X, Netanyahu said: “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to defend our country and our people.

“Like every country, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself. The vile attempt to deny this right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state, and it was justly rejected. The charge of genocide is not only false, it’s outrageous. Decent people everywhere should reject it.

“Our war is against Hamas terrorists, not against Palestinian civilians. We will continue to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and to do our utmost to keep civilians out of harm’s way.”

 

 

Nevertheless, the ruling obliges Israel to change its conduct in Gaza, with the ICJ imposing six provisional measures, including the prevention of acts that could be considered genocidal and punishment of comments that appear to incite genocide.

Of more immediate concern for the civilian population in Gaza is whether Israel will honor the court’s demand to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid is permitted to enter the embattled enclave to stave off famine.

Some 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military operation in October, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, and most of the enclave’s population has been displaced by the fighting.

Significant though the ruling is, South Africa’s legal team did not get all of the provisional measures it had hoped for.

Speaking after the ruling, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, said that without a ceasefire the court’s orders “don’t actually work,” adding that it would be up to Israel’s “powerful friends” to push it toward compliance.




South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor addresses reporters after the session of the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Jan. 26, 2024. (AP) 

Although she “wanted the word ‘cessation’ included” in the ruling, Pandor said she was “satisfied with the directions given.” The government in Pretoria likewise called it a “landmark ruling.”

Others who spoke to Arab News shared Pandor’s dismay that the court did not repeat its provisional order from March 16, 2022, when it obligated Russia to “immediately suspend military operations” in Ukraine while awaiting a final decision.

Hassan Ben Imran, a board member at Law for Palestine, told Arab News he was “disappointed” by the wording.

“Yes, morally, the judges need to ask themselves why they failed to clearly state the word ‘ceasefire’ as they comfortably did in Ukraine and Myanmar. However, the provisional measures order was a huge strategic success for the victims in the long term,” he said.

“So, while the court didn’t use the word ‘ceasefire,’ the whole decision clearly means that implementing it needs a ceasefire.”

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Similarly, Juliette McIntyre, an expert in international law from the University of South Australia, said that the pronouncement by the court would make it “much harder for other states to continue to support Israel in the face of a neutral third party finding there is a risk of genocide.”

This, McIntyre added, may lead to states withdrawing “military or other support for Israel in order to avoid this,” with the US purportedly following developments closely.

Across Europe, pressure has begun to mount on governments to act on the ruling, with the Scottish National Party warning that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “can no longer remain silent on atrocities being committed in Gaza.”

 

 

Similarly, New York City-based monitor Human Rights Watch said that the ICJ’s decision had put “Israel and its allies on notice,” calling on them to “back up their stated commitment to international law.

“Governments need to urgently use their leverage to ensure that the order is enforced,” Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at HRW, said in a statement after the ruling.

“The scale and gravity of civilian suffering in Gaza driven by Israeli war crimes demands nothing less.”

 

 

Pandor highlighted that the ruling’s success depended on international powers, telling reporters she has “never really been hopeful about Israel” complying with the court’s orders.

Julia Roknifard, an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics, History and International Relations, told Arab News that while “in part” there was a sense of disappointment that the ICJ had not demanded a ceasefire as it had with Russia, the decision had weight.

“Now, Israel is supposed to allow the aid in and provide a report on this in a month,” she said. “But even if Tel Aviv complies and all the necessary aid gets in, but the operation is still ongoing, that will not prevent the devastation, including the increase in the death toll.

“As of now, not unexpected, Israeli officials are showing disdain toward the ruling and the whole proceeding.”

Indeed, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s minister of national security, responded to the ruling on X with the quip: “Hague Schmague.”




Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. (AFP)

Unlike Ben-Gvir, the Israel Defense Forces may be taking the court’s ruling more seriously, with reports that it has already altered tactics to comply with the ICJ.

Although Arab News was unable to verify these changes, sources have reported in recent weeks of a growing chasm between Israel’s military and political leadership on how the war is being fought.

For now, however, the Israeli government appears to be resolutely against the ruling. Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, said that Israel did not need “lecturing on morality in order to distinguish between terrorists and civilians.”

He added that the IDF would “continue operating to dismantle the military and governing capabilities of the Hamas terrorist organization, and to return the hostages to their homes.”




Israeli army tanks roll in southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip on January 24, 2024 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

For Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow of the MENA Program at London’s Chatham House, the case has shown the limits of legal avenues to justice for the Palestinians — something he believes is ultimately a political process.

“I was afraid all along that this case would become a distraction from the main aim of bringing about an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“The focus should have been, at least at this stage, on the political, not the legal. The priority is to first stop the suffering and then deal with the legal aspects. I am not against applying international law and accountability; it is a matter of sequencing.”

 


Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses
Updated 13 min 54 sec ago
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Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

JERUSALEM: An Israeli battalion which US media say Washington is likely to sanction over alleged rights violations against Palestinians, has a long history of transgressions and impunity, according to analysts and Israeli media.

The military’s Netzah Yehuda unit was founded in 1999 to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to enlist but has since accepted other religious recruits including residents of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Netzah Yehuda was deployed until 2022.

The unit has mainly attracted marginalized ultra-Orthodox youths “who see the army as a means of integrating into Israeli society and earning a living,” said David Khalfa of Jean-Jaures Foundation, a French think tank.

But it has also drawn “rather radical religious nationalists having strong hostility toward Arabs,” he said. “Marked by a strong ideological and sociological leaning, the battalion has acquired a scandal-prone reputation.”

Marwa Maziad, a visiting lecturer of Israel studies at the US University of Maryland, told the Middle East Eye website that unlike most army units, Netzah Yehuda relies on volunteers.

She said: “The battalion attracts religious Zionists, who combine Jewish religious interpretations with nationalist militarism” and are closely associated with the extreme fringes of the Israeli settler movement.

The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, is home to 3 million Palestinians alongside some 490,000 Israelis living in settlements considered illegal under international law.

“A large part of the unit’s soldiers were born and raised in the West Bank,” Khalfa said, noting Netzah Yehuda was often tasked with policing and “counter-insurgency” operations in the Palestinian territory.

“A significant number of them — not all — committed abuses and the army hardly imposed any sanctions,” Khalfa said.

The January 2022 death of Palestinian American Omar Assad, 78, at the hands of Netzah Yehuda soldiers in the West Bank drew attention to the unit, with the US State Department later that year ordering embassy staff in Israel to investigate the case.

Handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded, Assad was left lying on the ground on his stomach for more than an hour in a freezing winter night.

Following Assad’s death, several Israeli media outlets published reports detailing incidents linked to the battalion that had gone largely unpunished, including beatings of Palestinians and attacks on Bedouin citizens of Israel.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper said Netzah Yehuda troops effectively allowed settlers to attack Palestinians, while Haaretz, a left-leaning daily, denounced the “clear ideological connection between the residents of the settlements and the unauthorized outposts and the soldiers” in the unit.

According to Khalfa, “within the army there are lively debates” over Netzah Yehuda, with some military officials considering it “dangerous for the army to bring together so many young people sharing the same nationalist ideology.”


Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit

Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit
Updated 18 min 29 sec ago
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Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit

Emir of Kuwait arrives in Jordan for state visit
  • Aircraft escorted by Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 fighter jets

AMMAN: The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah arrived in Amman on Tuesday for a two-day state visit to Jordan, the Kuwait News Agency reported.

The emir’s aircraft was escorted by Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 fighter jets as it entered Jordan’s airspace. Upon arrival at Marka Airport, he was warmly received by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah.

An official welcoming ceremony took place, according to a statement by the royal court. The day continued with Sheikh Mishal and King Abdullah engaging in formal discussions at Basman Palace which focused on strengthening long-standing bilateral relations and enhancing cooperation to meet the aspirations of their countries.

Sheikh Mishal congratulated King Abdullah on the 25th anniversary of his coronation and spoke of Jordan’s progress under his leadership. The session was attended by top officials from both countries.

Sheikh Mishal was awarded the Al-Hussein Necklace, the highest civilian medal in Jordan, by King Abdullah.

The meeting concluded with a banquet hosted by King Abdullah in honor of Sheikh Mishal and his delegation, which celebrated the deep ties between Kuwait and Jordan.
 


US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’

US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’
Updated 26 min 14 sec ago
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US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’

US to begin Gaza aid pier construction ‘very soon’
  • Facility will consist of an offshore platform for the transfer of aid from vessels, and a pier to bring it ashore

WASHINGTON: The United States will begin construction “very soon” on a pier to boost deliveries of desperately needed aid to Gaza, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Gaza — a small coastal territory — has been devastated by more than six months of Israeli bombardment and ground operations against Hamas militants, leaving the civilian population in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.
“All the necessary vessels are within the Mediterranean region and standing by,” Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder told journalists, referring to the watercraft carrying equipment for the pier project.
“We are positioned to begin construction very soon,” Ryder added.
The facility will consist of an offshore platform for the transfer of aid from larger to smaller vessels, and a pier to bring it ashore.
Plans were first announced by US President Joe Biden in early March as Israel held up deliveries of assistance by ground.
US officials have said the effort will not involve “boots on the ground” in Gaza, but American troops will come close to the beleaguered territory as they construct the pier, for which Israeli forces are to provide security on the ground.


Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm

Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm
Updated 23 April 2024
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Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm

Services at Dubai Airport back to normal after disruptions caused by storm
  • DXB CEO Paul Griffiths says challenges remain, including baggage backlog
  • Regular flight schedules have resumed, with 1,400 flights operating each day

DUBAI: Regular flight schedules at Dubai International Airport had resumed by Monday following the storm early last week that caused the highest rainfall the UAE has experienced in 75 years, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said on Tuesday. About 1,400 flights are now operating each day.

“With roads in and around the airport 100 percent clear of water accumulation, our manpower, logistics and facilities are operating as usual again,” he added.

“To have the airport back up and running is no small feat. Also, 2,155 flights were canceled and 115 were diverted. We had to work closely with our airline partners and service providers to rework schedules, boost manpower and look after all those who had been disrupted.

“I’m continuously amazed by the unwavering dedication of our Dubai Airports employees, airline partners, government agencies, commercial partners and service partners. It has been the most challenging adverse weather event we’ve had to navigate, and our people and partners worked tirelessly to keep the operation running and to assist our guests.”

Griffiths said the welfare of passengers remained a central focus throughout the disruptions over the past week. After some initial difficulties in delivering supplies as a result of flooded roads around Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports, more than 75,000 food packs were successfully provided for passengers stranded at the two locations.

“While certain challenges remain, including processing the baggage backlog, we’re working closely with our service partners but know there’s still more work to be done and, once again, thank guests for their patience while we work through this,” said Griffiths.

“We’re deeply saddened by the ongoing impact of the heavy rainfall on affected communities and businesses across the UAE. We’re also supporting our own people who were badly affected by the weather and will continue to support wherever we can.”


US calls on Iraq to safeguard US troops after new attacks

US calls on Iraq to safeguard US troops after new attacks
Updated 23 April 2024
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US calls on Iraq to safeguard US troops after new attacks

US calls on Iraq to safeguard US troops after new attacks
  • “These attacks put coalition and Iraqi personnel at risk,” Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing

WASHINGTON: The US military called on Iraq’s government on Tuesday to take steps to safeguard American troops in both Iraq and Syria after failed attacks on Monday by Iran-aligned militia.
“These attacks put coalition and Iraqi personnel at risk. We call on the government of Iraq to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of US forces in Iraq and Syria against attacks from these groups,” Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing.
“If these attacks continue, we will not hesitate to defend our forces, as we have done in the past.”