The International Court of Justice Hearing On Israeli Genocide Brings Hope
Crucial information and the promise of a better future.
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Today, January 11th, 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) begins its hearing on allegations Israel is committing Genocide in Gaza. The complaint was brought by South Africa, with over 60 countries and a handful of non-governmental groups signing on. As the highest court of the United Nations, the ICJ has the authority to rule if Israel is breaking the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a.k.a. the UN Genocide Convention. Both Israel and South Africa are signatories of the 1948 treaty, giving them jurisdiction over both nations. (I’ve previously written I believe Israel is committing genocide. You can read my argument at the link below.)
Opposing the charge are Israel and the United States (which didn’t sign on to the Genocide Convention until 1988), while the European Union and the United Kingdom have remained silent. Israel has hinted at its defense, calling South Africa’s accusation “blood libel,” a reference to antisemitic rumors that Jews use the blood of Christians in religious ceremonies. While such accusations have been the go-to strategy for Zionists to defend Israel on social media, it’s highly unlikely to sway the ICJ.
Note: The ICJ is often confused with the International Criminal Court (ICC), as both are located in The Hague, a municipality of the Netherlands. While the ICJ rules on disputes between UN member states, such as this case between South Africa and Israel, the ICC prosecutes war criminals.
In addition to its fifteen sitting justices, the ICJ will add two judges for the case, appointed by the defendant and the plaintiff. Israel has tapped its former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak for the job, while South Africa has selected Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. A lifelong anti-apartheid activist, Moseneke was sentenced to a decade in prison at age 15 for engaging in “anti-apartheid activity.” The full case is likely to take years, but the Court can grant South Africa’s plea for a temporary measure that Israel “not to engage in genocide and punish genocide” committed by its military and government officials. This is meant to stop the humanitarian crisis in Gaza from worsening, though it’s highly unlikely Israel will heed.
While the Court has jurisdiction over both South Africa and Israel, the anarchic nature of international relations means it has no way to enforce a guilty verdict. Unlike the courts of a nation that can hand down punishment to be enforced, the United Nations cannot capture guilty parties, meaning they can (and frequently do) live unburdened by their convictions. It could instruct a peacekeeping force — soldiers of member nations acting under UN direction, identified by their trademark blue helmets — to intervene, but that’s highly unlikely to happen. As Israel is backed by the United States, any nation that landed troops in Israel to arrest its officers would be committing diplomatic suicide for itself and literal suicide for its soldiers.
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While the chance Netanyahu, Biden, or any of the other architects of this genocide spend a day in The Hague is close to nil, the ICJ hearing provides a glimmer of hope to those of us who yearn for the liberation of Palestine. Over 30% of the world’s governments have signed South Africa’s charge, giving credibility to the global movement of mass protests and civil disobedience that has risen to stand with Gaza. Now more than ever, it is important for Americans to seize this momentum and carry it into the political field: call your representative, join a march, and do anything else possible to pressure our government to end its enablement of Israel’s crimes.
But aside from the credibility boost to the liberation movement, this case provides another morsel of comfort.
Forty years ago, South Africa was just like Israel. As a settler colonial nation, it imposed harsh apartheid upon citizens and enacted state violence upon the racial minority. Israel and South Africa even worked together, sabotaging anti-apartheid activists and courting the American Right.
Now, after a long struggle for freedom, South Africa is a multi-racial democracy. Black and White citizens alike share control of the country’s destiny, settling their decisions via the ballot. One such decision the South African people have made is to ensure their country’s sins are never recreated. By electing politicians like Justice Moseneke and Nelson Mandela, they have built a human-rights-focused government, which is now prosecuting Israel at the International Court of Justice.
Just as ending the assault on Gaza and liberating Palestine looks impossible in 2024, so did ending South African apartheid in 1984. And yet, less than a half-century later, South Africa has not only dismantled its oppressive systems but is leading the charge against the crimes it once abetted. Like many Palestinians and Black South Africans, Justice Dikgang Moseneke had his youth stolen by malice. Sitting in a Robben Island jail cell, it’s likely he thought he’d never taste freedom again. But the righteous cause prevailed in South Africa, and today will be the day Justice Moseneke takes his seat on the highest international court to pass judgment upon the very inhumanity he endured.
While the picture is bleak, South Africa’s pivot from grave offender to human rights defender reminds us we must never give up hope.
One day, Palestine will be free.
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