A Friday ruling by the International Court of Justice on genocide charges against Israel had deep historical resonance for both Israelis and Palestinians. But it lacked immediate practical consequences.
The World Court did not order a cessation of fighting in the Gaza Strip and made no attempt to rule on the merits of the case brought by South Africa, a process that will take months (if not years) to complete.
But the court did order Israel to comply with the Genocide Convention, send more aid to Gaza and inform the court of its efforts to do so, stopgap measures that seemed like a rebuke to many Israelis and a moral victory to many Palestinians.
For many Israelis, the fact that a state founded after the Holocaust had been accused of genocide was “an incredible symbol,” Alon Pinkas, an Israeli political commentator and former ambassador, said after the court’s ruling in The Hague.
“That we are even mentioned in the same sentence as the concept of genocide (not even atrocity, not disproportionate force, not a war crime, but genocide) is extremely uncomfortable,” he added.
For many Palestinians, the court’s intervention offered a brief sense of validation for their cause. Israel is rarely held accountable for its actions, Palestinians and their supporters say, and the ruling felt like a welcome exception amid one of the deadliest wars of this century.
“The killing continues, the carnage continues, the total destruction continues,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a former Palestinian official. But the court’s decision reflected “a serious transformation in the way Israel is perceived and treated globally,” he said.
“Israel is being held accountable for the first time, and by the highest court and by a nearly unanimous ruling,” he added.
For Gazans, the intervention will bring little immediate relief.
Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed more than 25,000 Gazans, according to Gaza officials, and damaged most of the territory’s buildings, according to the United Nations. More than four in five residents have been displaced from their homes, the health system has collapsed and the UN has repeatedly warned of impending famine.
In enforcing the Genocide Convention, the court pressured Israel to follow an international law written in 1948 that prohibits signatory states from killing members of an ethnic, national or religious group with the intent to destroy, even partially , to that particular group. .
For many Israelis, the decision seemed like the latest example of bias against Israel in an international forum. They say the world holds Israel to a higher standard than most other countries. And for mainstream Israelis, the war is a war of necessity and survival, imposed on Israel by the Hamas attack on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people and led to the kidnapping of another 240 in Gaza, according to Israeli estimates.
Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister whose inflammatory statements about the war were cited by the court in the preamble to its ruling, called the court’s ruling anti-Semitic.
“The State of Israel does not need to be lectured on morality to distinguish between terrorists and the civilian population in Gaza,” Gallant said.
“Those seeking justice will not find it in the leather chairs of the courts of The Hague,” he added.
Still, the court’s instructions could give impetus and political cover to Israeli officials who have been pushing internally to moderate military actions in Gaza and alleviate the humanitarian disaster in the territory, according to Janina Dill, an international law expert at the University of Oxford.
“Any dissenting voice in the Israeli government and in the Israeli military that disagrees with how the war has been conducted so far has now been given a really powerful strategic argument to call for a change of course,” Professor Dill said.
For Professor Dill, the case also prompted reflection “on the human condition,” given that Israel was founded in part to prevent genocide against the Jewish people.
“Preventing human beings from turning against each other is a constant struggle and no group in the world is incapable of doing it,” he added.
It was an issue that seemed to concern the only Israeli judge, Aharon Barak, among the 17 evaluating the case at the World Court.
As a child, Barak, 87, survived the Holocaust after escaping a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania by hiding in a sack.
“The genocide is a shadow over the history of the Jewish people and is intertwined with my own personal experience,” Barak said. wrote. “The idea that Israel is now accused of committing genocide is very hard for me personally, as a genocide survivor deeply aware of Israel’s commitment to the rule of law as a Jewish and democratic state.”
In this complex context, Barak decided to vote against several of the measures approved by the court. But he joined his colleagues in calling on Israel to allow more aid to reach Gaza and punish people who incite genocide, surprising observers who expected him to side with Israel on each and every issue. points.
While many Israelis expressed frustration over the ruling, some found relief in the fact that the court did not order Israel to cease its military operation.
According to Barak, such a measure would have left Israel “defenseless in the face of a brutal attack, unable to fulfill its most basic duties towards its citizens.”
“It would have amounted to tying both of Israel’s hands, denying it the ability to fight even in accordance with international law,” he wrote.
But for some Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, that very decision constituted betrayal. Many expected the court to ask Israel to stop the war entirely, a move that would be nearly impossible to implement but would have constituted a victory in the battle for public opinion.
“He talks like genocide and walks like genocide,” said Muhammad Shehada, a Gaza human rights activist. wrote on social networks. “But there is no need to stop the genocidal war! Everything’s fine?”
Six hours after the court ruling, Gaza’s Health Ministry released the latest war casualty figures. Another 200 Gazans died in the past 24 hours, the ministry said Friday night.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel, and Johnatan Reiss from Tel-Aviv.