Israel-Gaza: What does the ICJ ruling mean on the Israeli offensive in Rafah?

Screenshot, ICJ President Nawaf Salam (center) during a ruling on the situation in Rafah.

  • Author, Dominic Casciani
  • Role, Legal and home correspondent

The UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), issued a ruling last week on Israel’s military offensive in Rafah.

It was the court’s latest ruling in a case brought by South Africa, which accuses Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip. Israel has vehemently denied the accusation.

Since the case began, the court has issued a series of challenged rulings.

The two most important concern whether or not the court has suggested that there is a risk of genocide in Gaza. The second ruling, handed down on May 24, includes highly controversial wording regarding military operations in Rafah.

It is now being intensely examined and discussed.

In last week’s order, the court ruled by 13 votes to two that Israel should: “Immediately stop its military offensive and any other actions in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza living conditions that could lead to its total or partial physical destruction.”

Headlines suggested this was an order to stop all military operations in Rafah, but some judges disagree on what it means.

Five of the 15 posted their own opinions. Three supported the order and two opposed it.

Judge Bogdan Aurescu of Romania said he voted in favor of the order, but revealed that he thought the court was being “unclear” and stressed that it could not prohibit Israel from taking legitimate actions in self-defense.

Judge Dire Tladi of South Africa disagreed with Aurescu, even though they had voted in favor of the same order. He said he told Israel “in explicit terms” to stop its offensive on Rafah.

The two judges who had opposed the order declared that, regardless of what the others had voted in favor of, it was surely not a demand for Israel to initiate a unilateral ceasefire in Rafah.

Julia Sebutinde of Uganda said the court could not “micromanage” a war and Aharon Barak of Israel, temporarily appointed to the case, said the ICJ order was “conditional” as long as the country acceded to the Convention. about Genocide.

The summary by German judge Georg Nolte is the most revealing of the court’s situation.

The order, as voted in favor, prohibited military action “to the extent that it would jeopardize the rights of the Palestinian people” to be protected from the risk of genocide. But he stressed: “The court can only play a limited role in resolving the situation. You have to be careful not to overstep the limits of what you can and should do.”