ICJ orders Israel to immediately stop its military incursion into Rafah

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday, May 24, 2024, ordered Israel to immediately stop its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, referring to the humanitarian situation in Rafah as “disastrous.”

Read more at Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

“The court considered that, in accordance with the obligations arising from the Genocide Convention, Israel must immediately stop its military offensive and any other actions in the Rafah government that could inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza living conditions that could lead to its destruction. physical. totally or partially,” said the president of the organization, Judge Nawaf Salam.

In its application to the ICJ on 10 May, South Africa had requested that the court Order Israel to withdraw immediately and cease its military incursion into Rafah. But, in presenting its case to the court on May 17, South Africa urged the court to reassert its authority and order Israel to cease its military operations throughout the Gaza Strip.

Arguing before the court, South Africa’s powerful legal team had said that Israel’s military incursion into Rafah was “the latest step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.”

South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, at the International Court of Justice, during a ruling on South Africa’s request to order a halt to the Israeli offensive on Rafah in Gaza, in The Hague, Netherlands, on 24 May 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Johanna Geron)

‘Characterized as disastrous’

While the ICJ did not order a complete cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip on Friday, it agreed with South Africa that the situation in the enclave had deteriorated since its orders of January 26 and March 28, 2024, and that the The interim measures ordered by the court in March did not fully address the current situation in the Gaza Strip..

“The court observes that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which, as stated in its order of January 26, 2024was at serious risk of deterioration, has deteriorated and has deteriorated further since the court’s decision. order of March 28, 2024. “In this regard, the court notes that the concerns it expressed in its decision communicated to the parties on February 16, 2024 regarding the events in Rafah have materialized, and that the humanitarian situation must now be characterized as disastrous,” the court said. judge. Salam.

The air and missile strikes that continue to devastate the Gaza Strip have killed more than 35,500 Palestinians and injured more than 80,000, according to the Ministry of Health. The revised death toll in Israel from the October 7 Hamas attack is 1,139, and more than 120 remain captive in Gaza.

Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), presides over a ruling on South Africa’s request to order a halt to the Israeli offensive in Rafah in Gaza, as part of a broader case brought before the court based in The Hague in South Africa. accusing Israel of genocide, on May 24, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Johanna Geron)

Rafah crossing ordered to open

On Friday, the court further ordered Israel to open and maintain the Rafah border crossing for “the unhindered and large-scale provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Furthermore, it ordered Israel to “take effective measures to ensure unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other fact-finding body commissioned by competent bodies of the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide.”

The United Nations (UN) had noted that around 1.5 million Palestinians were taking refuge in Rafah – making it one of the most densely populated areas on Earth – when the Israeli army began its ground incursion into the city on 7 May.

The UN estimates that, as of May 18, 800,000 Palestinians have been displaced from Rafah.

Read more at Daily Maverick: Israel to expand military operation in Rafah; Yellen warns of threat to close Palestinian banks

Before Israel concluded its argument before the court on May 18, German judge Georg Nolte had asked Israel will provide information on the humanitarian conditions in its designated evacuation zones, particularly Al Mawasi, “and how it would ensure safe passage to these areas” and the provision of aid and humanitarian assistance to all Palestinian evacuees.

Israel provided an eight-page response to Nolte’s question, which the Court found insufficient on Friday. (South Africa’s lawyers, by contrast, submitted a 61-page response to Israel’s argument.)

British jurist Malcolm Shaw and Yaron Wax look on at the ICJ during a ruling on South Africa’s request to order a halt to the Israeli offensive on Rafah in Gaza May 24, 2024. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

‘Concerns not sufficiently addressed’

“Based on the information before it, the court is not convinced that the evacuation efforts and related measures that Israel claims to have undertaken to improve the security of civilians in the Gaza Strip, and in particular recently displaced from the Rafah governorate, are sufficient to alleviate the immense risk to which the Palestinian population is exposed as a consequence of the military offensive in Rafah,” the order reads.

“The court notes that Israel has not provided sufficient information on the safety of the population during the evacuation process, or the availability in the Al-Mawasi area of ​​the necessary amount of water, sanitation, food, medicine and shelter for the 800,000 Palestinians who have evacuated so far. Accordingly, the Court is of the opinion that Israel has not sufficiently addressed or allayed the concerns raised by its military offensive in Rafah,” he continued.

The director-general of South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Zane Dangor, welcomed the court’s decision.

“The court essentially ordered Israel to halt its operations in the Rafah area to ensure that Palestinians do not suffer further harm as a result of Israel’s military actions and denial of life-saving food and medicine in that area and throughout Gaza. “, said.

“This order is innovative as it is the first time that there is explicit mention of Israel stopping its military action anywhere in Gaza, this time specifically in Rafah.

“Although legally the court could not use the term ceasefire… this is, de facto, a call for a ceasefire. “He is ordering the main party in the conflict to end its belligerent action against the people of Palestine,” Dangor continued.

Welcoming ICJ ruling President Cyril Ramaphosa, he said: “We are gravely concerned that Israel has restricted the entry of necessary levels of aid into Gaza and has systematically attacked aid and aid infrastructure within Gaza.

“This case therefore focuses on ordinary Palestinians in Gaza who now face their seventh month of suffering from collective punishment for something for which they have no individual responsibility.”

“We call on all States Parties to respect the requirements of international law, which forced them to reconsider their relations with Israel following the Court’s conclusions.

“Under international law, Israel is obliged to implement the Court’s Order, as well as the previous orders of January 26 (reaffirmed by the Court on February 16) and March 28. Similarly, under international law, the prohibition of genocide is a peremptory norm from which no derogation is permitted, whatever the reason,” President Ramaphosa said.

The ICJ order follows the decision of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Karim Khan earlier this week, to request arrest warrants for both Hamas leaders and senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. DM