Can the International Court of Justice stop the massacre in Gaza?

A lot of people inside the movement that broke out in solidarity with the Palestinian people have turned their hopes to end the atrocities in Gaza to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). South Africa has filed a case demanding preliminary measures to be ordered from the Court, even if a case for Genocide needs years to be concluded.

The presented case’s unfolding facts, are no other than what the reporters from inside Gaza presented on social media that, have spurred people to question their governments and take to the streets. South Africa’s involvement transforms these facts from social media content to a permanent historical record and isolate Israel and its western allies even more in the public opinion .

Despite no illusions about capitalist institutions like the ICJ, the symbolism of a country emerging from apartheid, after a strong international movement, takes the role to become the voice of today’s movement and opposes openly the apartheid state of Israel,  is crucial. A victory for of this case would be a significant win for the movement in symbolic terms. Yet, we must not cease pressuring, mobilizing, and advocating for a free Palestine until the decision is made

The case

South Africa has initiated legal proceedings against Israel, claiming that the latter has breached its obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

According to Article II of the Convention,

“genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

In their 85-page transcript of the oral presentation, South African judges have compiled evidence of genocidal acts falling under Article II (a), (b), (c), and (d). Crucially, they demonstrate the intent of the State of Israel, a pivotal element in the accusation of genocide.

Some of the described acts include:

  • Approximately 23,000 reported deaths, half of whom are children
  • 60,000 reported injuries
  • Over 1,800 Palestinian families in Gaza experiencing the loss of multiple family members
  • Destruction of 355,000 Palestinian homes, leaving at least half a million Palestinians without a home to return to
  • Displacement of about 85% of Palestinians in Gaza
  • The indiscriminate targeting of schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, and even the “safe routes” designated by the Israeli army, rendering Gaza a “nowhere safe” zone
  • Infrastructure destruction and hindrance of humanitarian aid delivery
  • Complete obliteration of the healthcare infrastructure
  • Obstruction of aid delivery for an estimated 180 women giving birth in Gaza daily, with 15% likely to experience complications, according to the World Health Organization
  • An alarming 93% of the Gaza population facing crisis levels of hunger
  • Experts predicting that more Palestinians in Gaza may succumb to starvation and disease than airstrikes

Genocidal intent

The first aspect of intent is rooted in the Israeli state’s knowledge and apparent failure to stop the reported acts, despite widespread international condemnation of human rights violations from the early days of the attack.

The intent becomes particularly evident through public speeches made by political leaders and military officials, as well as disturbing videos created by soldiers on the ground in Gaza, some of which are categorized as “snuff” videos. Notable instances include:

Prime Minister Netanyahu, addressing Israeli forces on October 28, 2023, before the invasion of Gaza. He urged soldiers to “remember what Amalek has done.” This refers to a biblical command to Saul, ordering the wholesale destruction of the Amalekite people

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” Samuel 15:3 (the Bible)

Such genocidal references have been echoed by soldiers and even artists within the Israeli State.

The Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, called for the obliteration of the Gaza Strip

“clear[ing] out the communities that have been infiltrated by terrorists”

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, in a “situation update” to the army, proclaimed that Israel was

“…imposing a complete siege on Gaza”, “there would be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel”. “Everything would be closed”, because Israel is “fighting human animals”“Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything . . . we will reach all places.”

President Isaac Herzog, while signing bombs destined for Gaza, asserted that the entire population of Gaza is collectively responsible. He rejected the notion that civilians are not aware or involved, stating,

“…this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, is absolutely not true . . . we will fight until we break their backbone.”

This sentiment was also captured in a video where soldiers danced on the rubble, chanting the slogan “there are no not involved.”

“Self-defense” the main talking point

The defense presented by the State of Israel did not primarily rely on a factual account. In contrast to South Africa’s judges, who chose a more restrained approach devoid of excessive graphic content, Israel consistently bombarded viewers with videos from October 7th and the hostage situation.

Israel’s main argument remained centered on “self-defense”. Even their plea for the court to reject provisional measures was grounded in the claim that they would be vulnerable to Hamas. A significant part of their defense involved accusing Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields, holding them accountable for the alleged genocidal conduct.

These arguments, focusing on self-defense and accusations against Hamas, have persisted since the beginning of the siege. However, there has been no explanation from Israel or its allies as to why a state with one of the most capable military machines worldwide cannot adequately protect itself from a terrorist group purportedly consisting of just 30,000 militants. The displacement of two million people, the killing of 25,000 mostly non-combatants, and other aggressive measures have not quelled the perceived threat.

Notably, Israel’s advocates did not address the specific facts presented by South Africa’s advocates. Instead, they attempted to contest the application through legal nit-picking and eventually labeled the application as a libel.

Another propaganda point that is all over the Western media is that the Jewish people faced genocide under the Nazi regime. This is of course true, and there should be no attempt to reduce the significance of what happened then. But a genocide does not legitimize another one. What is happening today cannot by any means be justified by what happened in the past.

Will the ICJ make a decision?

The ICJ was established after World War II through the initiative of the UK and the US, aiming to settle disputes between nation-states in accordance with international law and provide advisory opinions on international legal issues.

It’s important to note that while the ICJ can order provisional measures, it does not have the authority to enforce them. The final decision from the ICJ will carry historical significance, but its outcome remains uncertain. The court could decline to order anything, prescribe different measures, or even declare itself not competent to judge the case. Such capitalist institutions, while trying to present themselves as “impartial”, are nothing of the kind. They make decisions that mostly fit the major international capitalist powers. These would be, until recently, the Western powers. Interestingly, the fact that South Africa even thought about filing a case against Israel, is connected to the general geopolitical situation. China is openly questioning US dominance, and South Africa is part of the China-led BRICS bloc.

A number of countries from the “global South” have declared their support for the South Africa case. On the other side, Germany openly supports Israel, and U.S. Secretary of State Blinken dismissed the case as meritless, exemplify the geopolitical dynamics at play.

The ICJ hearing holds primarily symbolic significance, and while symbols play a crucial role in global politics, actions carry greater weight. A more impactful display of solidarity could involve South Africa and Arab countries, staunchly opposing the Israeli state’s genocidal intent, severing their financial ties with it. Nevertheless, it’s essential to acknowledge that sanctions and disinvestment within a capitalist framework often end up affecting the working people of the sanctioned country or targeting individual scapegoats, as evidenced in Iran or Russia. Big multinationals tend to evade the repercussions. Despite these challenges, such measures can still exert substantial pressure on the Israeli regime.

The antiwar movement must develop

South Africa’s case is based upon a significant grassroots antiwar movement internationally, with thousands taking to the streets for over 100 days. This sustained momentum has found backing not only from popular figures like Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Jeremy Corbyn but also from major opposition parties in Western countries. This movement laid the ground for challenging the mainstream propaganda by the Israeli state after October 7th.

Throughout this process, the Israeli regime and its Western allies seem to be losing ground in the court of public opinion. Governments in the West are experiencing a lack of legitimization and support from their people. The movement’s impact is evident in various ways, such as the defiance of workers in the ports of Barcelona and Belgium who refused to facilitate movement of ships related to the war.

Crucially, this solidarity movement has empowered Jewish communities worldwide, including those within Israel, to protest against their own government’s actions and challenge years of ingrained propaganda and nationalism. The call for justice extends beyond waiting for resolutions from capitalist international institutions. We cannot know the exact outcome of the ICJ case. But what we know for sure is that this case cannot in any way stop the ethnic cleansing that is taking place in Gaza today.

The only force that can do that is the collective power of the antiwar movement. Not only mass demonstrations but also, crucially, strikes should be organised in countries to block military aid to the Israeli army. Mass mobilisations should be organised in every country, on a united front basis and with continuity. Jews around the world and, crucially, inside Israel should demand an end to the atrocities. This is a very difficult task, but it can play a hugely important role in shattering the propaganda of the Israeli regime.

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