This is an updated version of this earlier article.
by Jeff Klein
In a historic January 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague judged “plausible” that Israel’s assault on Gaza since October constitutes Genocide. This could be a sign that Israel – and its US backers – may finally be held legally accountable for their crimes committed in the war against Gaza. Whether it will succeed in stopping the ongoing crimes remains uncertain, given the limited coercive powers of the ICJ and the US veto power in the UN. However, both Israel and the US – along with 150 other states — have ratified the Genocide Convention that underlies the court ruling and are supposed to be bound by its decisions.
South Africa had brought the case against Israel to the ICJ with an excruciatingly detailed brief against Israel’s war, along with documentation of the genocidal intent expressed by many of Israel’s political leaders.
A final decision in the ICJ case could take months or even years, but given the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza imposed by Israel’s ongoing assault, the ICJ ordered a number of emergency “provisional measures.” Israel was directed to prevent the commission of acts defined under the Genocide Convention; to ensure that its military does not commit any of the crimes outlawed by the Convention; to prevent and punish incitement to commit Genocide by its citizens; to take immediate measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza; to preserve all documentation relating to the charge of Genocide; and to report back within one month on all measures to conform with the provisional measure demanded by the Court. It is hard to see how these measures could be effective without a ceasefire to halt Israel’s attack on Gaza.
As of this writing, more than 26,000 Gazans have been killed by Israeli attacks. With so many Gazans still missing, the likely death toll is much higher. The majority of the victims are women and children, while tens of thousands more have been wounded, often grievously.
Most of the homes in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or are seriously damaged; hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, churches and many cultural institutions have been targeted repeatedly. According to the UN, almost two million Gazans have been forced by the bombing to flee their homes to crowded and squalid conditions in the south of the Strip without adequate shelter – where they have also been targeted by Israel’s military. The conditions resulting from the Israeli assault, together with its blockade and limits on the entry of food, water and fuel, have caused widespread hunger, with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians civilians facing outright starvation. The medical system in Gaza has virtually collapsed under the weight of Israeli attacks, so the likelihood of severe disease epidemics that could claim many more lives is increasingly dire. This is an outcome that has been welcomed by high-level Israeli officials.
So far, the ICJ case against Israel has been dismissed as “unfounded” by the US and its closest allies. And there has been little stomach for holding Israel accountable in the White House or the US Congress. Even a measure introduced by Bernie Sanders simply to compel a report on Israel’s potential human rights violations with US-supplied weaponry was decisively defeated in the Senate with only 11 affirmative votes. The planes and bombs Israel uses to devastate Gaza come almost exclusively from the US and are paid for by American taxpayers in the form of almost $4 billion in annual US military aid.
However, it is notable that a cohesive group of Democratic Senators has begun to coalesce around challenging the long-standing US policy of unconditional support for Israel. Massachusetts Senators Warren and Markey were among the votes supporting the Sanders resolution. Sanders has since announced that he will oppose more than $10 billion in additional US military aid that has been proposed by the White House and supported by leaders of both parties in Congress. In the House, Reps. Pressley, McGovern and Lynch are the only members of the Massachusetts delegation to call for a ceasefire.
MAPA organized protests on January 30 at every Massachusetts Congressional district office to call for the implementation of the ICJ orders. This would entail demanding an immediate ceasefire, halting any further US arms transfers to Israel and ensuring the unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Among other measures, the demand was for the resumption of funding for the UN relief agency UNRWA that the US had suspended in response to Israeli charges that a few of its 13,000 employees may have participated in the October 7 Hamas attacks.
— Jeff Klein is co-convener of MAPA’s Gaza Israel Peace Campaign and Palestine-Israel Working Group, and a member of the board.