ICJ Orders Israel to Stop Its Rafah Offensive

This is the first time that the World Court has explicitly told Israel to halt military actions in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel on Friday to stop its assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, where Israel’s military offensive has forced some 800,000 Palestinians to flee from in the past two weeks. The 15-judge panel voted 13-2 in favor of the emergency measures, which are part of South Africa’s ongoing case accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

“This order is groundbreaking as it is the first time that explicit mention is made for Israel to halt its military action in any area of Gaza,” South African official Zane Dangor said.

Under Friday’s ruling, Israel must stop actions that “may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” ICJ President Nawaf Salam said. However, the judges themselves remain split on how this should be interpreted. Four of the 15 judges argued that the ruling does not require Israel to halt all Rafah operations, just any that could violate the Genocide Convention. Only the judges from Uganda and Israel voted against the measure.

The ICJ also ordered Israel to provide investigators access to the enclave and for Israel to report back on its progress to adhere to these demands within one month. And it said Israel must “maintain open the Rafah border crossing” between Egypt and Gaza, which Israeli forces took control of earlier this month, to allow the flow of humanitarian aid.

Egypt has blocked aid from entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing since then, insisting Israel must place the corridor back in Palestinian control before it will allow the resumption of deliveries. However, Egypt agreed on Friday to allow aid through the Kerem Shalom crossing, also in southern Gaza, until an arrangement acceptable to both Egypt and Israel regarding control of the Rafah crossing is in place. The Biden administration is sending a team of senior officials to Cairo next week to try to negotiate such an arrangement.

All ICJ rulings are final and binding, but the court has no enforcement mechanisms. If Israel disobeys an order by the World Court, then it could face international sanctions. ICJ member states could also appeal to the United Nations Security Council to call for an immediate cease-fire. In such a case, Israel will expect the United States to veto, as it has done in the past. Still, foreign leaders hope Friday’s ruling will urge the Security Council to try once again to pass such a resolution.

Friday’s ruling is part of emergency measures requested last week, after South Africa argued that Israel’s Rafah offensive is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its people.” Israel dismissed the court’s accusations, claiming that its operations are in self-defense in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7, 2023, attack and are “limited and localized” in scope. “No power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza,” Israeli spokesperson Avi Hyman said on Thursday. Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir added on Friday that Israel will continue its “conquest of Rafah” until it achieves “total victory” over Hamas.

Hamas official Basem Naim said the group welcomed the ICJ ruling but that it “is not enough since the occupation aggression across the Gaza Strip and especially in northern Gaza is just as brutal and dangerous.” Already, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Naim made no mention of another part of the Friday ICJ order, in which the court reiterated its call for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the hostages still being held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.

Original article

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ICJ rules Israel must stop Rafah operation, what’s next?

Photo: Magistrates are seen at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 24 May 2024 as part of South Africa’s request for emergency measures in Gaza. Source: Nick Gammon/AFP via Getty Images.

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