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One month later, South Africa’s ICJ case brings no relief to Gaza

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

The end of 2023 was tumultuous for Israel. After the infamous Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th, resulting in almost 1300 dead and 240 hostages, Israel started a war against Hamas that has led to the death of over 30,000 Palestinians.

What makes this even more disturbing is the majority of Palestinian deaths are women and children. They account for 70% of the deaths from the Israel response. More so, many of these victims were killed in safe zones including hospitals, mosques, refugee camps, and schools.

The conflict has further affected Palestinians in several ways. Besides those killed, thousands have been wounded and maimed, separated from their families, and displaced. 85% of Palestinians have been displaced after the evacuation order of October 13, where over a million people were displaced in just over 24 hours.

Israel is also accused of preventing humanitarian needs from being met. These include interrupting water, food, medicine, and fuel supply to Palestinians. Israel’s leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have also been accused of inciting violence against Palestinians.

The current war in Gaza has understandably caught the attention of the international world. Many have risen in condemnation across the world. At the fore is the UN General Assembly which approved 15 anti-Israel resolutions which are more than the total 13 resolutions of the rest of the world. Six resolutions of the 13 belong to Russia while North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and Myanmar share the remaining resolutions.

While African countries have been mostly passive about the current conflict, one country has taken the lead in their support for Palestine. South Africa, one of Palestine’s longest allies in Africa, brought a case to the International Court of Justice. The case accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians.

On 26 January 2024, The ICJ ruled in favor of the case brought by South Africa. 15 of the 17 judges of the court agreed with the ruling for Israel to create measures to avoid genocidal acts in Gaza. The decision was well received by South Africa while Israel was incensed.

One month later, the decision’s importance cannot be understated.

First, the decision showed the overwhelming support Palestine has across the world. Besides 15 out of 17 judges at the ICJ siding with Palestine, several countries also severed ties with Israel. These countries are not just majority Arab or Muslim, they include Bolivia, Chad, Turkey, Jordan, and Colombia. The resolutions against Israel saw a vote of 87 in favor, 26 against, and 53 absentees. Furthermore, this added to the already accumulating negative sentiment at the UN against Israel, tallying at 140 resolutions compared to 68 against the rest of the world.

The countries have severed ties by not only condemning the acts of Israel but also cutting diplomatic ties. They have done this by removing their ambassadors and diplomats and suspending relations.

However, the violence has not stopped. If anything, it’s flared up even more since the ICJ ruling. What this shows is the crucial error of the ICJ: the lack of implementation power. Despite being able to pass a binding ruling, the ruling is still unenforceable. The ICJ has no force that will follow through on the ruling. It is up to the parties of the UN to choose how they will go about implementing the ruling. In this case, Israel has continued its charge, refusing a ceasefire.

The case also brings to question the resolutions passed by the UN. Israel accounts for the majority of UN resolutions while several other countries that have committed atrocities lag significantly behind in the UN’s condemnation. Other countries with poor human rights records such as China, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been largely ignored. This brings into question the fairness of the rulings passed by the ICJ.

It also emboldened Israel’s steadfastness in pursuing their interests in the war. This is because of the lack of enforcement of the ruling. Irrespective of whether the ICJ ruling is binding, it still carries no real weight in terms of implementation. Since the international community seems to have no respect for the rulings of the ICJ, any other bad actors in global issues could be emboldened.

Finally, it reveals South Africa’s support for Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by 41 countries like the UK, US, and EU. It is evident since there was no similar response when the attack in Israel happened. There’s also never been any response for any other rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza.  

The Israel-Gaza conflict has been a global issue since 2008 when Israel left Gaza. Israel has had several operations in the past in response to attacks from there. 

But there has never been a war of this magnitude. While the case by South Africa may have been good publicity for Gaza’s plight, it did not make any major difference in what is currently happening.

The hope is that Israel will respond by its own volition given the strong outcry by other member states of the UN. South Africans, given their continued pressure for a ceasefire, may not believe Israel will end the war anytime soon.

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Simon Mwebaze

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