Palestine: ICJ Genocide Hearing an opportunity to prevent further Israeli atrocities in Gaza

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The upcoming International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearing on Israel’s violation of the Genocide Convention is welcomed by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). Held today 11 January and tomorrow 12 January 2024, the hearing follows South Africa’s application instituting proceedings against Israel on 29 December 2023 and Israel’s acceptance to appear before the Court. The ICJ hearing is a crucial opportunity to draw attention to Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza and to place these atrocities under international scrutiny. CIHRS is appalled by the international community’s failure to take all reasonable measures within its power to prevent genocide in Gaza, notably the Arab states’ inertia despite their claims of support for Palestinians.

“The reality of current life conditions in Gaza is extremely alarming and time is ticking to save the Palestinian people from the unfolding genocide committed by Israel. The hearing at the ICJ is an immense opportunity to shed light on these concerns and could be a tool to not only place pressure on Israel, but also on other countries to act fast and prevent genocide in Gaza”, said Amna Guellali, Research Director at Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

There are serious concerns of Israel’s commission of genocide in Gaza, especially when viewing the violations in the broader context of Israel’s 75 year-long apartheid, prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory, and a 16 year-long blockade of Gaza. Since 7 October 2023, Israel has been directing blatantly indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population and as of 8 January 2024, at least 23,084 people have been killed, of whom 70 percent are women and children, and 58,926 people have been injured. Israel has been attacking civilian objects, including hospitals, schools, bakeries, agricultural lands and places of worship, as well as critical infrastructure and civilian residences with more than 60 percent of Gaza’s housing units reportedly destroyed or damaged. More than 85 percent of the Palestinian population of Gaza have become internally displaced and approximately 2.2 million Gazans are at imminent risk of famine as a result of the hostilities and the restricted humanitarian access.

Continued hostilities and denial of humanitarian access have also intensely worsened a  critical water shortage in Gaza,  rendering tens of thousands of people without access to clean water. A “living hell” and a “graveyard for children” are among the descriptors used by the United Nations for the apocalyptic situation in Gaza. The UN also underscored the unprecedented killing of journalists and humanitarian workers in Gaza, with more journalists reportedly killed since 7 October 2023  “than in any conflict in at least three decades. More United Nations aid workers have been killed than in any comparable period in the history of our organization.”

Genocidal intent has been conveyed by the dehumanizing rhetoric used with impunity by Israeli officials. Among these numerous alarming official statements are that of Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, who said on 9 October 2023 that Israel was “imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.”  A “common goal” of “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth” was published on social media’ by Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Nissam Vaturi, on 7 October 2023. “Those who are unable will be replaced,” he warned.

In its Request, South Africa asked the Court to indicate provisional measures in order to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people” under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and “to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention not to engage in genocide, and to prevent and to punish genocide”. In particular, South Africa called on the Court to impose on Israel the immediate suspension of its military operations in and against Gaza, and to hold accountable the persons committing, attempting to commit, or conspiring to commit genocide or directly and publicly inciting genocide.

South Africa also requested the Court to adjudicate and declare that Israel must perform the obligations of reparation in the interest of Palestinian victims including allowing the safe and dignified return, to their homes, for the forcibly displaced and abducted. In a similar genocide case brought by Gambia against Myanmar, the ICJ adopted, in January 2020, provisional measures to protect the Rohingya people remaining in Myanmar from genocide, requiring Myanmar to prevent genocidal acts against the Rohingya, preserve evidence related to the case, and mandated it to report on these measures every six months.

South Africa’s application sheds light on the obligation of State parties to the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide, which many members of the international community have failed to exercise, notably the majority of Arab states. On 8 December 2023, the UN Security Council  failed to adopt a resolution imposing an immediate humanitarian ceasefire due to a veto cast by the United States. While the Arab League and its member states have issued statements condemning Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, they have failed to take concrete measures to prevent these atrocities or to hold Israel accountable. In November 2023, the joint summit of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation highlighted regional divisions as the States failed to agree on punitive measures against Israel. No Arab state joined South Africa’s application to the ICJ – which could mark a significant step in bringing attention to Israel’s atrocities – and with the exception of Jordan, no Arab state publicly welcomed this move.

Often referred to as “the crime of crimes” and “the denial of the right of existence of entire human groups… that shocks the conscience of humanity”, genocide is defined in the 1948 Genocide Convention as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such” through specific exclusive acts of: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; or imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The intent to destroy must be present in addition to these acts, and the actual result of destruction is not a requirement to speak of genocide. International courts have consistently ruled that evidence of intent may be proven by inference from the acts and deeds of the perpetrators, including the indiscriminate physical targeting of the group or its property, the number of victims, the weapons used and the extent of bodily injury, the methodical planning, systematic manner of killing as well as the genocidal language.

Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people is strongly indicated by the acute and disproportionate levels of killing and civilian death and displacement in Gaza,   the numerous official Israel  statements expressing genocidal intent, the destruction of civilian property and vital infrastructure together with Israel’s intentional deprivation of water, food, hygiene, and sanitation to the Palestinians of Gaza alongside its blockage of humanitarian aid. Moreover, Israel has so far failed to prevent genocide while also failing to punish Israeli officials who have incited genocide against the Palestinians, thus positioning the International Court of Justice as a key international mechanism to deter further Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

Share this Post