AP

Top UN court orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza but stops short of ordering cease-fire

Jan 26, 2024, 7:44 AM

FILE - View of the Peace Palace which houses World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Sept. 19, 20...

FILE - View of the Peace Palace which houses World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Sept. 19, 2023. Israel is sending top legal minds, including a Holocaust survivor, to The Hague this week to counter allegations that it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The United Nations’ top court ordered Israel on Friday to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in its military offensive in Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.

South Africa alleged that Israel’s campaign in the tiny coastal enclave amounted to genocide in the case, which goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, and had asked the court to order Israel to halt the operation.

While the ruling stopped short of that, it nonetheless constituted an overwhelming rebuke of Israel’s wartime conduct and adds to mounting international pressure to halt the offensive that has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, decimated vast swaths Gaza, and driven nearly 85% of its 2.3 million people from their homes.

In the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges, the International Court of Justice decided not to throw out the case — and ordered six so-called provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza.

Many of the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority of the judges. An Israeli judge voted in favor of two of the six.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” Joan E. Donoghue, the court’s president, said.

Provisional measures by the world court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel will comply with them.

After the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fact that the court was willing to discuss the genocide charges was a “mark of shame that will not be erased for generations,” and he vowed to press ahead with the war.

“We will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people,” he said. “Like every country, Israel has the basic right to defend itself. The court in the Hague rightfully rejected the outrageous request to take that away from us.”

Friday’s decision is only an interim one; it could take years for the court to consider the merits of the genocide accusation by South Africa. Israel rejects the allegation.

While the case winds its way through the court, South Africa had asked the judges “as a matter of extreme urgency” to impose provisional measures.

Top of the South African list was a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza.” But the court declined to do that.

South Africa also asked for Israel to take “reasonable measures” to prevent genocide and allow access for desperately needed aid.

The court ruled that Israel must do all it can to prevent genocide, including refraining from killing Palestinians or causing harm to them. It also ruled it urgently needs to get basic aid to people in Gaza and that Israel should prevent and punish any incitement to genocide, among other measures. The court said Israel should submit a report on measures taken within a month.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki welcomed “the significant order.”

He said that the judges “ruled in favor of humanity and international law.”

The South African minister for international relations, Naledi Pandor, said outside the court that Israel can’t effectively implement the measures ordered without a cease-fire.

Israel often boycotts international tribunals and U.N. investigations, saying they are unfair and biased. But this time, it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team — a sign of how seriously it regards the case.

Israel launched its massive air and ground assault on Gaza after Hamas militants stormed through Israeli communities on Oct. 7 killing some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducting another 250.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said on Friday. The ministry does not differentiate between combatants and civilians in its death toll, but has said about two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

The Israeli military claims at least 9,000 of those killed in the nearly four-month conflict are Hamas militants.

U.N. officials have expressed fears that even more people could die from disease, with at least one-quarter of the population facing starvation.

How the U.S., Israel’s top ally, responds to any order will be key, since it wields veto power at the U.N. Security Council and thus could block measures there aimed at forcing Israel’s compliance.

The U.S. has said Israel has the right to defend itself, but also spoken about the need for the country to protect civilians in Gaza and allow more aid in.

The genocide case strikes at the national identity of Israel, which was founded as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.

South Africa’s own identity is key to it bringing the case. Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

___

Casert reported from Brussels. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa, contributed to this report.

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Top UN court orders Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza but stops short of ordering cease-fire