ICJ orders Israel to halt Rafah assault amid ‘immense risk’ to Palestinians (2024)

Judges at the top United Nations court ordered Israel to halt its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and withdraw from the enclave, in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, citing “immense risk” to the Palestinian population.

Friday’s decision marked the third time this year the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to rein in the death toll and alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. While orders are legally binding, the court has no police to enforce them.

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Reading out a ruling by the International Court of Justice or World Court, the body’s president, Nawaf Salam, said provisional measures ordered by the court in March did not fully address the situation in the besieged Palestinian enclave now, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.

Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” Salam said, and called the humanitarian situation in Rafah “disastrous”.

ICJ orders Israel to halt Rafah assault amid ‘immense risk’ to Palestinians (1)

South Africa’s lawyers had asked the ICJ in The Hague last week to impose emergency measures, saying Israel’s attacks on Rafah must be stopped to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

Reporting from The Hague, in the Netherlands, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said that 13 of the 15 ICJ judges agreed to call on Israel to halt its assault.

“[Salam] said 800,000 are displaced, and that he doesn’t believe Israel’s word that they are provided safety and humanitarian access. He said there was no evidence of that,” she noted.

“That’s why the court has now made a very strong order that Israel should immediately stop its offensive and military operation in Rafah and withdraw its troops from there. He also made a ruling on border crossings, that they must be reopened as soon as possible to get humanitarian aid in,” Vaessen added.

She said that the judge also stressed that observers from the UN have to get access as soon as possible to make sure that no evidence of any possible war crimes disappear from the region.

The ICJ has also ordered Israel to report back to the court within one month over its progress in applying measures ordered by the institution.

Israel launched its assault on the southern city of Rafah this month, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee a city that had become a refuge to about half of the population’s 2.3 million people.

Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, has also been the main route in for aid, and international organisations say the Israeli operation has cut off the enclave and raised the risk of famine.

Reporting from Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Hind Al Khoudary said that people in the Gaza Strip have not yet reacted to the ICJ ruling since many of them do not have internet connection.

“People here in the Gaza Strip are currently trying to feed themselves … after being constantly displaced. So people are not very well aware of what’s going on. They’re asking journalists … if there is anything positive,” she said.

Khoudary added that, as journalists in Gaza, they do not want to give people in the region false hope and are waiting to hear more information about how the ICJ’s ruling will be implemented in Rafah, where the situation remains tense.

The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the decision on Friday from the International Court of Justice, saying it represents an international consensus to end the war on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told the Reuters news agency.

Shortly after the ruling, Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on the social media platform X that “the State of Israel is at war for its existence.”

“Those who demand that the State of Israel stop the war, demand that it decree itself to cease to exist. We will not agree to that,” he said.

“We continue to fight for ourselves and for the entire free world. History will judge who today stood by the Nazis of Hamas and ISIS [ISIL],” he added.

Reporting from Amman, Jordan, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said that diplomatic sources have told Israel’s Channel 13 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene an emergency meeting.

“Foreign Minister Israel Katz, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz and the government’s judicial adviser will be in the meeting. This is how seriously they are taking this ruling,” Khan said.

“We are hearing from political sources speaking to local media that Israel will not respond to the decision of the court, both politically or militarily,” he added.

According to war crimes prosecutor Reed Brody, the ICJ has stepped up to confront the reality in the Gaza Strip.

“I’m really impressed, first of all by South Africa’s tenacity and perseverance and coming back to the court. And the court has responded almost unanimously,” he told Al Jazeera.

Brody noted that South Africa has been asking for an order for Israel to stop its military offensive since the start of the war on Gaza, with the court saying it cannot make a move because Hamas and the Palestinian side is not present on the stand.

“But that’s what they have finally chosen to do here and it’s a testament to this court and what it does,” he said.

“Together with the decision by the ICC prosecutor [to recommend arrest warrants against top Israeli officials], it is a real one-two legal punch.”

ICJ orders Israel to halt Rafah assault amid ‘immense risk’ to Palestinians (2)

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states. Its rulings are final and binding, but have been ignored in the past.
In a highly charged ruling in January, the court ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a halt in the fighting.

Israel has repeatedly dismissed the case’s accusations of genocide as baseless, arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defence and targeted at Hamas fighters who attacked Israel on October 7.

ICJ orders Israel to halt Rafah assault amid ‘immense risk’ to Palestinians (2024)

FAQs

Was Palestine a country before Israel? ›

While the State of Israel was established on 15 May 1948 and admitted to the United Nations, a Palestinian State was not established. The remaining territories of pre-1948 Palestine, the West Bank - including East Jerusalem- and Gaza Strip, were administered from 1948 till 1967 by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.

Is Israel in the ICJ? ›

Israel doesn't accept the ICJ's jurisdiction, but South Africa was able to bring its case because both countries are signatories to the Genocide Convention that includes a clause allowing disputes about the convention to be settled by the ICJ.

How many Palestinian villages were destroyed in 1948? ›

To create the State of Israel, Zionist forces attacked major Palestinian cities and destroyed some 530 villages. Approximately 13,000 Palestinians were killed in 1948, with more than 750,000 expelled from their homes and becoming refugees – the climax of the Zionist movement's ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Who controls ICJ? ›

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. These organs vote simultaneously but separately. In order to be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies.

Are ICJ cases binding? ›

The judgment is final, binding on the parties to a case and without appeal (at the most it may be subject to interpretation or, upon the discovery of a new fact, revision).

What is Israel called in the Bible? ›

The Land of Israel (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, Modern: ʾEreṣ Yīsraʾel, Tiberian: ʾEreṣ Yīsrāʾēl) is the traditional Jewish name for an area of the Southern Levant. Related biblical, religious and historical English terms include the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land, the Holy Land, and Palestine.

What was Palestine called in the Bible? ›

The name was familiar to their ancient neighbours, occurring in Egyptian as Purusati, in Assyrian as Palastu, and in the Hebrew Bible as Peleshet (Exodus 14:14; Isaiah 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4). In the English authorized version, Peleshet is rendered Palestina or, in Joel only, Palestine.

Is Palestine oldest or Israel? ›

Taking stock. By more than 1,000 years, “Israel” predates “Palestine.” The land then became home primarily to an Arab population, again for more than a millennium. Both Jews and Arabs thus have a legitimate claim to the land. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen myriad wrongs and brutalities on both sides.

What international laws has Israel violated? ›

It also said that Israel had committed war crimes and violations of international law, including unlawful killings, “wanton destruction of civilian property,” collective punishment, punitive and deliberate sieges and restrictions, strikes on civilian infrastructure, “deprivation of essential services” such as water, ...

Why is US not part of ICJ? ›

United States participation in the ICC treaty regime would also be unconstitutional because it would allow the trial of U.S. citizens for crimes committed on U.S. soil, which are otherwise entirely within the judicial power of the United States.

What happens if Israel does not comply? ›

If Israel does not comply, questions will arise about whether arms transfers, primarily by the US and Germany, can be made to a state that is continuing to breach an ICJ order.

Who lived in Palestine before Israel? ›

Before 1948, Palestine was home to a diverse population of Arabs, Jews, and Christians, as all groups had religious ties to the area, especially the city of Jerusalem.

What was Tel Aviv called before? ›

The settlement was known at first as Ahuzat Bayit, but an assembly of its residents changed its name to Tel Aviv in 1910. Other Jewish suburbs to Jaffa had already been founded since 1887, with others following until the Great War.

Why did Britain give Palestine to Israel? ›

In 1917, in order to win Jewish support for Britain's First World War effort, the British Balfour Declaration promised the establishment of a Jewish national home in Ottoman-controlled Palestine.

What is the purpose of the ICJ? ›

The Court's role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.

What power does the ICJ have? ›

It is the world's highest-profile international tribunal: an organ of the United Nations created to adjudicate disputes between nations and provide advisory opinions on issues arising under international law.

How does the ICJ enforce its decisions? ›

To enforce an ICJ judgment a party must be able to bring suit. In other words, the party seeking enforcement must have an interest or injury, rising to the level of a case or controversy.

What can the ICJ prosecute? ›

The mandate of the Court is to try individuals (rather than States), and to hold such persons accountable for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole, namely the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

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