The International Court of Justice (ICJ) decided on an important provisional measure in the much-watched case of the Republic of South Africa versus the Zionist State of Israel. The world paid close attention on January 26 as 17 judges ordered six provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza. These measures were agreed to by an overwhelming majority of the judges.
An Israeli judge voted in favor of two of the six, and a Ugandan judge voted against all the measures. The ruling is part of a case South Africa brought to the ICJ on Dec. 29, charging Israel with genocide, concerning the Palestinian people.
The president of the court, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, said that South Africa has the right to bring the lawsuit and that Israel’s request for its dismissal cannot be accepted. “We have the authority to rule on emergency measures in the case of genocide against Israel,” she added.
A provisional measure is a temporary order issued by a court to protect the rights of the parties pending a final decision in a dispute. In this case, it is to ensure no irreparable harm is inflicted upon the Palestinians pending the conclusion of the full trial. Justice advocates lauded the outcome as a historical milestone, although some noted the court did not clearly call for an immediate ceasefire.
“First and foremost, it is historic,” said Eugene Puryear, investigative journalist and commentator. “It’s the first time there’s even really been a potentially enforceable legal action against Israel for any of its crimes over the 75 years of occupation,” he added.
South Africa vs. Israel initially opened on January 11 and can ultimately take years to conclude. In a 15-2 vote the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything possible to prevent genocide of the Palestinian people in its war raging since October 2023 and ensure its military commits no acts constituting genocide.
Also, to take all measures to “prevent and punish” the direct and public incitement of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. And, allow urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Finally, to submit a report on its compliance 30 days after January 26, the date of the order.
Mr. Puryear said the nature of the provisional measures makes it “highly unlikely” any real compliance could take place without a ceasefire and believes Israel will continue its genocidal path. That will not only build on the case against Israel but “more importantly” open a new phase of struggle around Palestine for any country or third-party entities to take action against the Zionist state.
“Now, without a doubt, there is a strong legal basis—you might even call it legal cover—for some individuals to take direct action sanctioning Israel,” said Mr. Puryear. “Now, any country will be able to cite the ICJ provisional measures,” he added.
The case also opens the way for other actions against Israel, such as a supercharging of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) efforts, “because there’s a new legal framework that I think will speak very directly to the urgency of the moment,” reasoned Mr. Puryear.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke about the urgency of the moment and why his government had to step up against Israel’s atrocities. “This marks an important first in our quest to secure justice for the people of Gaza,” President Ramaphosa said hours after the hearing.
“Some have told us that we should mind our own business and not get involved in the affairs of other countries. Others have said it was not our place, and yet it is very much our place as a people who know too well the pain of dispossession, discrimination, [and] state-sponsored violence,” he said. “We are also a people who were the victims of the crime of apartheid. We know what apartheid looks like. We experienced and lived through it,” said Mr. Ramaphosa.
“We, as South Africans will not be passive bystanders and watch the crimes that were visited upon us being perpetrated upon other people elsewhere. We stand on the side of freedom for all. We stand on the side of justice,” said Mr. Ramaphosa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted the ruling as a “vile attempt to deny Israel” a right to defend itself and a “blatant discrimination” against the Jewish state. “The charge of genocide leveled against Israel is not only false, it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it,” he said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki said, “The ICJ judges assessed the facts and the law, they ruled in favor of humanity and international law.”
“The ICJ order is an important reminder that no state is above the law. It should serve as a wake-up call for Israel and actors who enabled its entrenched impunity,” he said.
The United States said it continues to believe that allegations of genocide are “unfounded,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: “Today, the authorities of the fake Israeli regime … must be brought to justice immediately for committing genocide and unprecedented war crimes against the Palestinians.”
Other leaders around the world also reacted to the court’s ruling. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the interim ruling by the ICJ on the genocide case against Israel, describing the provisional measures as “valuable.”
The ongoing push for accountability
However, in the moments in which the ICJ was issuing the order, destruction rained down in Gaza taking death tolls past 26,000 Palestinians. Famine and desperation are not strong enough to describe what people faced on the ground on the very day of the decision. One Palestinian among the thousands displaced told Al Jazeera that he came out to meet death just for a parcel of food.
Reactions from around the globe were mixed and consistent in calling on nations to hold the Zionist state accountable.
Sally Abi-Khalil, Oxfam International Regional Director for the Middle East, said all States—particularly those supporting Israel with military weapons despite the clear risk of them being used to commit war crimes—must respect the court’s ruling and refrain from any actions that undermine it.
“Palestinians should not have to endure another day of this suffering. We urge all countries to do all in their power to ensure an immediate ceasefire,” said Ms. Abi-Khalil. “Ensuring those responsible for violations on both sides are held accountable, and to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory,” she said.
Al Mayadeen English quoted reactions from resistance organizations in the region. Hamas welcomed the decision, considering it as substantiating the accusations of genocide being committed in Gaza.
The group emphasized the decision “opens the door for holding the enemy’s leaders accountable for these crimes before the International Criminal Court, affirming the rights of our Palestinian people to determine their destiny, establish their independent state, and return to their land and homes from which they were forcibly displaced, under international resolutions on this matter.”
Hamas also declared its appreciation for the “genuine stance” of South Africa.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad viewed the ICJ measures “as falling short” for not demanding a ceasefire. It is “evidence that global evil powers dominate the international legal system and organizations to serve their interests at the expense of the oppressed,” the group’s statement read.
Progressive organizations and coalition groups also applauded the ruling but implored that pressure must remain on Israel and its chief political backer the United States.
“We welcome the ruling,” said Ajamu Baraka, national organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP), speaking on behalf of the group.
It is quite clear that the court, even under significant pressure on the judges from the countries they represent like the US, saw the evidence and argument South Africa advanced as so overwhelming that it had no other options than to at least concede in its provisional opinion that Israel is involved in genocidal activity, observers note.
“What this provisional decision reveals, is the true nature of the Israeli settler colonial project,” said Mr. Baraka. “People need to be reminded that not only are we dealing with the assault right now in Gaza, but that the Israelis have used their military technology … weapons … training, to back repressive right-wing governments around the world,” he said.
“That Israeli training of police forces in the US is directly responsible for the enhanced ability of those police forces to repress and to murder Black people in the US,” he continued, stating the importance of Israeli accountability. “So, this provisional ruling, should help people to understand that objectively, the Israeli government along with its enabler the US government, stands as an enemy to all colonized and oppressed people around the world,” said Mr. Baraka.
BAP is a founding member of The International Coalition to Stop Genocide in Palestine (ICSGP), which sees the court’s order as a crucial first step toward forcing Israel and its strongest political ally—the United States—to end the months-long brutal assault on Gaza, and the decades-long denial to Palestinians of their rights to self-determination and return.
“The ICSGP calls upon social movements to demand that world governments uphold international law and protect the integrity of the United Nations by ensuring that the ICJ’s provisional measures are immediately enforced, and to hold Israeli war criminals and their powerful U.S. accomplices accountable for genocide,” they said in a Jan. 26 statement.
A significant ruling
Dr. Luqa AbuFarah, North America coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), an ICSGP member organization, stated:
“It’s clear we have a moral obligation to take action and end our government’s complicity with Israel’s Gaza genocide. We must have the courage to speak out and take action to advance the struggle for justice. We must end US military funding to Israel, which at $3.8 billion a year could instead provide more than 450,000 households with public housing for a year or pay for 41,490 elementary school teachers.
I also hope that every person outraged with the blatant disregard for Palestinian life will join and escalate our BDS campaigns and make sure companies know that complicity with Israeli apartheid and genocide is unacceptable. We must take action now more than ever!”
The provisional hearing happened one day before the International Holocaust Remembrance Day recognized every January 27. Some noted the ironic significance of Israel being on the court docket for genocide. “That is huge,” said Mouin Rabbani, analyst and co-editor of Jadaliyya, an electronic publication of the Arab Studies Institute.
“That’s what this issue is really about. Because for 75 years since 1948, Israel has instrumentalized, two words: ‘never again’ to justify everything that it’s doing,” said Mr. Rabbani. “It has managed to transform the definition of ‘never again,’ as applying exclusively to Israel,” he pointed out.
“That is no longer the case. Today ‘never again,’ the meaning of that has been transformed; never again shall any people be the victims of genocide, even if those seeking their destruction is Israel—many of whose people were victims of genocide themselves.
The Palestinian intellectual Edward Said often referred to Palestinians as the “victims of the victims,” and has talked about the uniquely difficult situation this puts the Palestinians in because the Jews are the victims with a capital “V,” so how can Israel possibly be guilty of crimes against the Palestinian people? Mr. Rabbani asked rhetorically. “That all changed today. Israel can no longer shield itself from accusations of crimes against the Palestinian people, by pointing a finger at the Nazis,” he reasoned.
“The historical irony of the Jews who’ve been subjected to European anti-semitism and experience what they experienced in Germany in World War II are now one of the first major governments ever to be exposed as a government engaged in genocide,” added Mr. Baraka. “This is significant.”
Around the world the pain anguish and cries of oppressed populations at the hands of unjust rulers is being seen, heard and felt.
According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 Black pastors representing hundreds of thousands of congregants nationwide have called on for a ceasefire.
“In sit-down meetings with White House officials, and through open letters and advertisements, ministers have made a moral case for President Biden and his administration to press Israel to stop its offensive operations in Gaza, which have killed thousands of civilians,” the New York Times reported in a Jan. 28 article.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, National Representative of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, has described this world demand as an intensifying “universal cry for justice,” and he warned that all tyrants will be removed today by God Himself. The Minister spent decades calling the nations to a posture of balance and warning about the consequences of unbridled oppression.
Echoing his teacher, Minister Farrakhan stated that justice will ultimately come from the God of justice and cautioned tyrannical nations will be requited for their deeds and every nation will be called to its record.
On that day everyone will be requited for what they did, Minister Farrakhan pointed out in Part 15 of a yearlong lecture series called, “The Time And What Must Be Done,” in 2013. “So as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that ‘the principle of justice’ will be ‘the weapon’ that God will use in ‘the Day of Requital,’ or, ‘the Day of Judgment,’ then this is ‘a bad day,’ then, for the wicked—a very bad day,” said Minister Farrakhan.
“What is the recompense for those who administer ‘suffering’ and ‘loss’? Jesus mentioned this ‘Law of Requital’ in these words found in the Book of Galatians, Chapter 6, verse 7: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,’” said Minister Farrakhan.
From the Bible Book of Hosea, Chapter 8, verse 7, Jesus said if you “sow the wind” you will “reap the whirlwind”—because nature never gives you “exactly” what you gave,” the Minister continued. “Nature always gives you more; so, if you’ve done ‘good,’ God will give you more than the good that you have done,” explained the Minister. “But for the ‘evildoer’: God will bring recompense on your head. And for the wicked who persist in evil: Oh, this ‘whirlwind’ is now blowing at your door!” he warned.
On February 25, Minister Farrakhan will address the subject, “What does Allah The Great Mahdi and The Great Messiah Have to Say About the War In the Middle East?” in Detroit, Michigan, at the Nation of Islam Saviours’ Day Convention. For more information, visit noi.org.