By Conor Payne
On 26 January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague gave its interim verdict on the case taken by the South African government against the State of Israel for the crime of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. The Court rejected the Israeli state’s request to throw out the case, ruling that there was a plausible case for Israel to answer and ordering it to take a series of measures to prevent genocide from taking place. Of course, the ICJ has no real power to implement these measures, yet still it refused to call for an immediate ceasefire – something completely contradictory and illustrative of the nature of the institution. It is only the solidarity of workers and young people around the world that Palestinians can rely on.
However, regardless of how much they try to obfuscate it, this verdict is a significant blow to the prestige of the Israeli state and its imperialist backers. It affirms the conclusion already drawn months ago by the millions around the world who have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinian people – that the Israeli regime is perpetrating genocide in Gaza, as shown both by its murderous actions and the multiple public genocidal statements from senior figures in the government and military.
The South African case had been openly attacked not just by the Israeli government but by the United States, Britain and other Western imperialist powers – the same leaders who claim to stand for international law, the global ‘liberal rules-based order’, human rights, and all the rest. The verdict underlines the hypocrisy and hollowness of these notions when the interests of these capitalist powers are on the line.
Increases political pressure
The increased pressure on governments flowing from the ruling has been reflected in Ireland with Micheal Martin welcoming the ruling in a case that his government had previously attacked: “I strongly welcome the court’s orders which are final and binding… We expect Israel to implement all provisional measures that have been ordered by the court, in good faith and as a matter of urgency.” Pressure will now mount on the government to join the South African case, and this could become a point of action and mobilisation.
As mentioned, the ruling has real weaknesses. Crucially, it does not call for a ceasefire, which has allowed the representatives of the Israeli state and its international sponsors to try to obscure the fact that they lost the case and absurdly claim that the Court validated their operations in Gaza. This undoubtedly reflects the nature of the ICJ but also the political pressure of Western imperialism on the supposedly neutral court. However, as many analysts have pointed out, it is impossible for Israel to comply with the ruling without ending its siege and assault on Gaza.
The Court has ordered it not to kill Palestinians, cause them physical or psychological harm, or inflict conditions of life on them that could bring about their destruction as a people. All of this contradicts the whole purpose of the IDF’s activities in Gaza. The Court also ordered the punishment of incitement to genocide – complying with this would mean arresting the Israeli President, the Prime Minister, the Defence of Minister and many others! The ICJ issuing such orders of course doesn’t mean they will be acted upon, but it will serve to register more keenly when the Israeli State violates them.
Impact of international solidarity movement
Some have argued that the verdict demonstrates the strength and inviolability of international law and its institutions. This is far from the truth. War crimes are regularly committed by the imperialist powers and their allies across the world and they are very rarely if ever held to account in the international institutions precisely because these institutions have been established by imperialist powers to serve their own interests.
This verdict can only be understood in the context of the pressure brought to bear by the international movement of ordinary working-class people in solidarity with the people of Gaza. In taking the case, the ANC government of South Africa reflected pressure from below – the strong solidarity with Palestinians felt by the people of South Africa based on a common experience of colonialism and apartheid – and this was particularly acute in the year of a difficult election for the ANC government. The fact that the case was even partially successful is due to the impact of the protests and mass outrage worldwide.
Of course, justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved through the courts or the UN. The ICJ has no power to enforce its rulings; it depends on states to do so. If, as is already happening, the Israeli government defies the ruling, it can be brought to the UN Security Council for enforcement, but any motion will most likely be vetoed by the United States. US imperialism regards the Israeli State as its “strategic asset” when it comes to dominating and exploiting the Middle East and its resources.
Israeli State and allies take revenge against UNRWA
The actions of the Israeli state and its allies in the days since the verdict speak for themselves. The vindictive attack on UNRWA in the wake of the ICJ ruling is another deepening of the genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people. UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) employs 30,000 people, mainly Palestinians, and provides basic social services in the Occupied Territories and in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries. In Gaza, the aid and shelter it provides is the only lifeline for many. Now, on the basis of dubious accusations made by the Israeli security services that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks, the US, Britain, Germany and others have suspended funding to UNRWA.
The accusations against UNRWA employees have not been backed up with evidence; they come from a state with an established record of lying and, in any case, involve a tiny percentage of the organisation’s workforce. Cutting off funding at this time is a conscious tactic to deepen the starvation and suffering within the Gaza Strip – with the Western powers shamefully complicit.
Meanwhile, genocidal incitement has continued, with a conference in Jerusalem of far-right settlers and their supporters to discuss plans for settlements in Gaza. At the conference, settler leader Daniella Weiss called for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza, stating: “Gaza, the southern gate of Israel, will open, the people of Gaza will move to all around the world”. This conference was attended by 12 ministers in Netanyahu’s government.
Step up the actions to support Gaza
While the ICJ ruling is a blow to Netanyahu, Biden and co., it was never going to stop the genocide nor end the regime of occupation from which it emanates. Instead of relying on such institutions, we need to use it as a spur to build a mass movement of resistance in the region and internationally against the genocide and for the freedom of the Palestinian people. This means continuing to build mass protests across the world, targeting the governments and big businesses which back the occupation, and workers’ actions like those taken by dock workers in Belgium and Catalonia to refuse to transport arms to Israel.
Wars, war crimes and even genocides are sadly not aberrations in this world but part and parcel of the capitalist system we live under, where the strategic interests of imperialist powers for profits, markets, resources and spheres of influence matter more than the lives of millions of people, especially in the Global South. Along with that also comes the racist dehumanisation of the victims of these crimes, as we have seen so widely and despicably in the onslaught on Gaza. The genocide in Gaza should move us to action, but also to fight to finally end the system of capitalism and imperialism and build a new, socialist world for peace and liberation for all.