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)
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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

  • 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.”

 


Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Updated 58 min 52 sec ago
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Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

  • Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

DUBAI: A merchant ship was damaged by a drone attack in the Red Sea near Yemen early Sunday morning, though no injuries were reported, according to a British maritime security agency.
Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometers) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy.

 


“The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel. All crew members are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” said a bulletin from the agency.
“Authorities are investigating,” it added, offering no attribution for the attack.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against the Houthis over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the past 24 hours.
It also said the group had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Updated 23 June 2024
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Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.
 


Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

Updated 23 June 2024
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Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

  • Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.
Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza started by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.
“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.
“All of the rats in the Knesset... I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”
Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.
Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.
In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister.”
Many are frustrated with the country’s right-wing coalition, which includes Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and other far-right ultra-nationalists, accusing it of prolonging the war in Gaza and putting the country’s security and hostages at risk.
Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.
“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said. “If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”
Hamas militants seized 251 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the hostages.
The attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
 

 


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

  • A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.