Craig Murrray, Alexander Mercouris, Ray McGovern and Francis Boyle discuss the meaning of the World Court’s ruling on Israel.
Hosts: Elizabeth Vos, Joe Lauria. Producer: Cathy Vogan
By Joe Lauria
in The Hague, Netherlands
Special to Consortium News
The International Court of Justice on Friday issued its interim ruling in the case of South Africa vs. Israel. South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and asked the Court for provisional measure including ordering Israel to halt its military operation while Israel is put on trial for genocide.
The Court found that there was a dispute between South Africa and Israel and had jurisdiction in the case. Israel had argued that no formal dispute between the parties exists. The Court also rejected Israel’s argument to dismiss the case, ruling that there is prima facie evidence that Israel is committing the crime of genocide in contravention of the Genocide Convention.
That means Israel will indeed be put on trial for genocide, a momentous decision that few people ever thought would be possible. Based on that preliminary finding, the Court ordered the following provisional measures:
- Israel must immediately ensure that its military does not commit acts within the scope of GC.2
- Direct and punish all members of the public who engage in the incitement of genocide against Palestinians
- Ensure provision of urgently needed basic services, humanitarian aid
- Prevent the destruction of and ensure the preservation of evidence to allegation of acts of GC.2
- Israel will submit report as to how they’re adhering to these orders to the ICJ within 1 month
From South Africa’s point of view and from those who want to see Israel’s genocidal massacres stopped, these were positive orders.
However, it is a ruling that has engendered various interpretations in a sort of Rorschach test, some which might exaggerate what the court has actually ruled.
For instance, the court did not order Israel to “stop genocidal acts” as many people are saying. It said it must “prevent” genocidal acts that the court hasn’t yet ruled are actually taking place. Calling on Israel to stop such acts would mean the court had already determined that genocide is occurring.
The court requires Israel to follow its orders, including not to kill civilians, but only “within the scope of Article 2” of the Genocide Convention, allowing Israeli lawyers to argue that Palestinian civilian deaths are occurring outside that scope. An army can kill civilians, even in a war crime, without committing genocide. Is the court just telling Israel that when killing civilians please be careful not to violate Article 2 of the Genocide Convention because we are going to try you on a charge of violating it?
If that is the case, then the Court’s ruling doesn’t seem radically different from what the United States has been telling Israel: be careful how you defend yourself.
International humanitarian law on the obligations of an occupying power are complex on when it can use force in self-defense. Certainly on Israeli territory Israel has a right under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter to self-defense. But is it lawful to take offensive measures on a territory it occupies, on which it has an obligation under the Geneva Convention to care for the occupied people? Would the occupying Germans have had the right to defend themselves against attacks by the Resistance on French territory? The court never discussed that issue at all.
Some argue that an order for a ceasefire would have prejudged the case on merits before the trial begins. But could the court not have ordered Israel to suspend its military operation while the trial proceeds to determine if genocide is taking place? This would rob Israel of arguing its killing of civilians is outside the scope of the Convention.
There is a video of South Africans dancing in celebration of the court’s decision. But the people who count here are not the South Africans or anyone else, but the people of Gaza. And reporting from there indicates bitter disappointment by the people, who were reported to be crushed by the ruling. Only a suspension of Israel’s assault it seems would have served them.
Perhaps the world had gotten so used to Israel’s ironclad impunity that a court saying Israel is plausibly committing genocide and should prevent their soldiers from doing so is such a shocking departure from the past that it is inviting celebration.
Perhaps the most important question is whether the court’s order will alter Israel’s behavior to substantially reduce civilian casualties and substantially increase humanitarian services. We should know in one month when Israel is supposed to report back to the Court.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe