The United Nations' highest court said on Wednesday that it would make its decision on Friday on urgent measures demanded by South Africa, which accuses Israel of “genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
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The International Court of Justice (ICJ) may order Israel to end its military operation in Gaza, triggered by the unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7.
On Friday, January 26, at 1 p.m. (12 p.m. GMT), the ICJ will “issue its order on the request for provisional measures submitted by South Africa” at the Peace Palace, its headquarters in The Hague, he said in a press release given.
South Africa filed an urgent objection last month, arguing that Israel was violating the United Nations Genocide Convention, signed in 1948 after the Holocaust.
Pretoria wants the ICJ to issue “interim measures,” emergency orders to protect Palestinians in Gaza from possible violations of the convention.
The orders of the International Court of Justice, which decides disputes between countries, are legally binding and final. However, it does not have the ability to enforce this. For example, it ordered Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already indicated that he would not feel obliged to comply with an order from the International Court of Justice.
“No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil, no one else,” he said at a press conference on January 14.
The court will only decide on South Africa's request for emergency measures, not on the fundamental question of whether Israel is actually committing genocide – that could take years.
But an International Court of Justice ruling against Israel would certainly increase political pressure on the country and could serve as a pretext for sanctions.
The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 that killed about 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel responded with a relentless military campaign that killed at least 25,700 people, mostly women and children, in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
South Africa can sue Israel at the International Court of Justice because both countries are signatories to the Genocide Convention.
At hearings in mid-January, Pretoria recognized the “special responsibility” of accusing Israel of genocide.
But South Africa's lawyers said Israel's bombings were aimed at “destroying Palestinian life” and had brought people “to the brink of starvation.”
“Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has evidence from the last 13 weeks that irrefutably shows a pattern of behavior and intent that supports a plausible claim of genocidal acts,” said Judge Adila Hassim.
Israel responded that it did not aim to destroy the Palestinian people and dismissed the South African accusations as a “completely distorted factual and legal picture” of events in Gaza.
“Israel is waging a defensive war against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people,” said lawyer Tal Becker.
Under these circumstances, “there can be no more false or malicious accusation than the accusation of genocide against Israel,” he continued.
The International Court of Justice ruling is seen as an important test of international justice and is being scrutinized worldwide, with many countries already siding with one of the two sides.
The United States has already rejected South Africa's request and Germany has said it will intervene as a third party alongside Israel when the court considers the genocide case on the merits.
Berlin's statement sparked sharp criticism from the southern African country and the former German colony of Namibia, saying Pretoria had made a “morally correct” accusation.
Namibian President Hage Geingob denounced “Germany’s inability to learn the lessons of its terrible history.”