U.N. court to deliver interim ruling in genocide case against Israel

THE HAGUE — The International Court of Justice is issuing a decision Friday on South Africa’s request for emergency measures in its genocide case against Israel.

In a hearing at The Hague’s Peace Palace, a judge will read out the court’s findings, potentially ordering Israel to change its conduct in the war in the Gaza Strip.

Friday’s decision will not determine whether Israel has committed genocide — that could take years. But the court may order provisional measures aimed at preventing the situation from getting worse while the case proceeds.

What to know about the genocide case against Israel ahead of ICJ decision

The legal battle has captured the world’s attention, spotlighting deep divisions. South Africa alleges that Israel violated the law by committing and failing to prevent genocidal acts, and it has asked the court to order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza immediately. A host of capitals have voiced support, as has the 22-member Arab League and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Israel has roundly rejected the allegations, saying South Africa presented a “grossly distorted” picture by ignoring the role of Hamas and “weaponizing” the international convention against genocide. The Biden administration dismissed the filing as “meritless.” Britain called the claims “nonsense.”

Israel’s offensive has killed some 26,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, the majority of them women and children. It was launched after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing roughly 1,200 people and taking around 253 hostage.

Though the court’s rulings are legally binding, they can be hard to enforce. Russia, for instance, ignored a 2022 order to cease its war against Ukraine. Still, provisional orders will add to growing calls for Israel to change course in Gaza.

“Pending a final ruling of the International Court of Justice on whether the crimes of genocide and other crimes under international law have been committed, an urgent order to implement provisional measures would be an important means to help prevent further death, destruction and civilian suffering,” said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, in a statement earlier this month.

It could also “provide a warning to other states that they must not contribute to grave violations and crimes against Palestinians,” she said.

South Africa presses genocide case against Israel at international court

At the heart of South Africa’s allegations is the claim that Israel has shown genocidal intent and that there is an urgent need for the court to order the country to cease its military operations.

“Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court,” Adila Hassim, one of the lawyers representing South Africa, said earlier this month.

In three hours of testimony on Jan. 11, South Africa’s legal team laid out the war’s devastating impact on civilians, including a soaring death toll and a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

“It is becoming ever clearer that huge swaths of Gaza — entire towns, villages, refugee camps — are being wiped from the map,” Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, an Irish lawyer on the South African team, said at the hearing. “On average, 247 Palestinians are being killed and are at risk of being killed each day, many of them literally blown to pieces. They include 48 mothers each day, two every hour. And over 117 children each day.”

“On current rates, which show no signs of abating, each day, over three medics, two teachers, more than one United Nations employee, and more than one journalist will be killed, many while at work, or what appear to be targeted attacks on their family homes or where they are sheltering,” she continued. “The risk of famine will increase each day.”

They also argued that Israeli officials have used dehumanizing language in a calculated effort to normalize “genocidal rhetoric” and incite soldiers.

Israel pushed back on all charges. The Israeli legal team argued Jan. 12 that the civilian toll in Gaza is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of fighting a militant group that hides in civilian areas, including hospitals.

Israel rejects genocide allegations at international court

Israel accused the South African side of taking remarks from leaders out of context and ignoring orders from officials to avoid unnecessary casualties. The team also sought to highlight efforts to limit civilian harm, citing phone calls and leafleting to warn Palestinians of incoming airstrikes, for instance.

“It is in response to the slaughter of Oct. 7, which Hamas openly vows to repeat, and to the ongoing attacks against it from Gaza, that Israel has the inherent right to take all legitimate measures to defend its citizens and secure the release of the hostages,” said Christopher Staker, a lawyer representing Israel.

Provisional orders, he said, could help Hamas and harm Israeli civilians.

Hendrix reported from Jerusalem.

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