Israel won, in particular, by not losing.
On Friday morning, the International Court of Justice declined to rule that Israel was committing genocide in its war against Hamas in Gaza.
The president of the U.N. court, American Joan E. Donoghue, spoke at this morning’s hearing. Said Donoghue:
“On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas and other armed groups present in the Gaza Strip carried out an attack in Israel, killing more than 1,200 persons, injuring thousands and abducting some 240 people, many of whom continue to be held hostage. Following this attack, Israel launched a large scale military operation in Gaza by land, air and sea, which is causing massive civilian casualties.”
South Africa had the right to take Israel to court, she said. But – against the expectations of many supporters of Israel, and perhaps Israel itself – she said two important things. One, she said on behalf of the 15-member court that that Israel must take take steps to ensure its IDF troops do not violate the Genocide Convention. Israel must prevent genocide, and punish those who incite it, she said.
But on the key question, brought forward in a packed courtroom by South Africa two weeks ago – whether Israel would be ordered to cease its military operations in Gaza, which is what South Africa, China, Russia, Iran and the world’s despots most desired – the ICJ did not order Israel to stop.
Just adhere to the Geneva Convention. Which, as the civilized world knows, Israel was already doing.
It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ruling – which was always going to be more about symbolism than reality. The UN’s court lacks the power to force Israel, or any country, to do or not do anything. But its ruling was important, and taken seriously by Israel, because the eyes of the world have been focussed on Gaza since Israel commenced its – overdue, necessary – action against Hamas at the end of October 2023.
Judge Donoghue said one thing on which both sides could agree: “Gaza has become a place of death and despair.” But the disagreement is over who is to blame for that. Israel (and too few others) says Hamas; Hamas (and too many others) says Israel.
The ICJ did not say so, but the facts are the facts: a ceasefire was in place on October 6, 2023, and on most of the days prior to that. And it was Hamas who broke the ceasefire, with an orgy of murder, torture, rape and kidnapping – of citizens, not soldiers.
The ICJ indicated that it has not passed a final ruling on the case brought by South Africa, which has effectively become a satellite of Russia and Hamas since the Mandela era. It may still rule on the specious genocide claim. But, as its practice, that ruling may take months or years to arrive.
Surprising many, Donoghue said: “The court is not required to ascertain whether any violations of Israel’s obligations under the Genocide Convention have occurred. That will happen at a later stage of the process.”
For the Israel-haters on the international stage, the ruling is a major setback. A United Nations court that has been traditionally hostile to Israel has refused to rule that genocide is taking place.
That, for Israel and its allies, is a massive victory – because it is so surprising. The UN’s General Assembly has condemned Israel no less than 14 times in 2023 alone. Most expected the International Court of Justice to do likewise.
It didn’t. And, for Israel and the cause of decency and sanity, that is a very big victory, indeed.