Deepening Middle East Crisis Four Countries Join US in Stopping

Deepening Middle East Crisis: Four Countries Join US in Stopping Funding for UN Aid Agency in Gaza – The New York Times

A ruling by the International Court of Justice on Friday accusing Israel of genocide sparked deep historical resonance among Israelis and Palestinians. However, there were no immediate practical consequences.

The World Court did not order a cessation of fighting in Gaza and made no attempt to rule on the merits of the case brought by South Africa, a process that will take months – if not years – to complete.

But the court ordered Israel to comply with the Genocide Convention, send more aid to Gaza and inform the court of its efforts to do so – interim measures that seemed like a rebuke to many Israelis and a moral victory to many Palestinians.

For many Israelis, the fact that a state founded after the Holocaust was accused of genocide is “a hell of a symbol,” said Alon Pinkas, an Israeli political commentator and former ambassador, after the court decision in The Hague.

“The fact that we are even mentioned in the same sentence as the concept of genocide – not even atrocity, not disproportionate force, not war crimes, but genocide – is extremely uncomfortable,” he added.

For many Palestinians, the court's intervention provided a brief sense of vindication for their cause. Israel is rarely held accountable for its actions, Palestinians and their supporters say, and the ruling felt like a welcome exception amid one of the deadliest wars of this century.

“The carnage continues, the carnage continues, the total destruction continues,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a former Palestinian official. But the court's decision reflects “a serious change in the way Israel is perceived and treated around the world,” she said.

“Israel is being held accountable for the first time – by the highest court and by a near-unanimous decision,” she added.

An Israeli attack in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip on Friday. Source: Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

The intervention will provide little immediate relief for the people of Gaza.

According to Gaza officials, Israel's campaign in Gaza has killed more than 25,000 Gazans and damaged most buildings in the territory, according to the United Nations. More than four in five residents have been forced from their homes, the health system has collapsed and the UN has repeatedly warned of impending famine.

In ordering compliance with the Genocide Convention, the court urged Israel to follow a 1948 international law that prohibits signatory states from killing members of an ethnic, national or religious group with the intent to destroy even partially that particular group .

To many Israelis, the decision appeared to be the latest example of anti-Israel bias in an international forum. They say the world holds Israel to a higher standard than most other countries. And for the Israeli majority, the war is a war of necessity and survival – it was forced upon Israel by the Hamas attack on October 7, which Israel estimates killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped 240 more to Gaza.

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, whose inflammatory statements about the war were cited by the court in the preamble to its ruling, called the court's ruling anti-Semitic.

“The State of Israel does not need to be lectured on morality in order to distinguish between terrorists and the civilian population in Gaza,” Gallant said.

“Those who seek justice will not find it on the leather chairs of courtrooms in The Hague,” he added.

Still, the court's instructions could give momentum and political cover to Israeli officials who have pushed internally to curb the military's actions in Gaza and ease the humanitarian catastrophe in the area, said Janina Dill, an international law expert at the university Oxford.

“All dissenting voices in the Israeli government and military who disagree with the way the war has been conducted so far have now been given a really strong strategic argument to call for a change of course,” said Professor Dill.

Palestinians flee Khan Younis, Gaza, on Friday through the city's western exit on the edge of their refugee camp to safer areas further south in the Gaza Strip. Source: Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

For Professor Dill, the case also prompted reflection “on the human condition,” since Israel was founded in part to prevent genocide against the Jewish people.

“Preventing people from turning against each other is a constant battle, and no group in the world is unable to do so,” she added.

It was an issue that apparently preoccupied the only Israeli judge, Aharon Barak, who was among the 17 World Court judges who heard the case.

As a child, Mr. Barak, 87, survived the Holocaust after escaping a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania by hiding in a sack.

“Genocide is a shadow over the history of the Jewish people and is linked to my own personal experience,” Mr. Barak wrote. “The idea that Israel is now accused of genocide is very hard for me personally, because as a survivor of the genocide I am well aware that Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state, is committed to the rule of law.”

Against this complex background, Mr. Barak voted against several of the measures decided by the court. But he joined his colleagues in calling on Israel to allow more aid to Gaza and punish people who incite genocide – surprising observers who had expected him to side with Israel on every issue.

While many Israelis expressed frustration with the ruling, some expressed relief that the court did not order Israel to halt its military operations.

Aharon Barak at home in Tel Aviv last year. He was among 17 judges who heard the case at the World Court. Photo credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv for The New York Times

According to Mr. Barak, this course would have left Israel “defenseless in the face of a brutal attack and unable to fulfill its most basic duties to its citizens.”

“It would have amounted to tying both of Israel’s hands and depriving it of its ability to even fight in accordance with international law,” he wrote.

But for some Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, the same decision was a betrayal. Many had hoped the court would order Israel to end the war entirely – a move that would have been difficult to enforce but would have marked a victory in the battle for public opinion.

“It talks like genocide and walks like genocide,” said Muhammad Shehada, a human rights activist from Gaza. wrote on social media. “But there is no need to stop the genocidal war! It's all ok?”

Six hours after the court decision, Gaza's Health Ministry released the war's latest death toll. The ministry said on Friday evening that another 200 Gazans had been killed in the last 24 hours.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad reported from Haifa, Israel, and Johnatan Reiss from Tel Aviv.

— Patrick Kingsley reports from Jerusalem