The International Court of Justice issued a provisional ruling Friday in a broader case over whether Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in the enclave.
The decisions of the tribunal, the highest judicial body of the United Nations, are binding, but the court has few means to enforce them. Still, the ruling increased international pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over the war. Israel has strongly rejected the charge of genocide.
Here’s what you should know about the ruling.
What did the ruling say?
The interim ruling came in response to South Africa’s request for “interim measures” to halt Israel’s military campaign in Gaza while the court considered the broader allegation of genocide.
On Friday, the court ruled that Israel must take steps to prevent acts by its forces in Gaza that are prohibited under the 1948 Genocide Convention, including the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians and “deliberately inflicting on the group living conditions calculated to cause its destruction.” total or partial physical destruction.”
The judges also ordered Israel to prevent and punish public statements that constitute incitement to genocide and to guarantee basic services and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. They also ordered Israel to preserve evidence related to genocide accusations. Finally, the judges ordered Israel to appear in court within a month to demonstrate how it is complying with the order.
Still, the court stopped short of asking Israel to suspend its military campaign, in line with what many legal experts had predicted.
What is the case of genocide?
The court is not expected to rule on the genocide charge for years.
This month, the South African government accused Israel before the court in The Hague of “acts and omissions” of a “genocidal nature” against Palestinians in Gaza. Before a panel of 17 judges, South African lawyers said that Israeli leaders and lawmakers had communicated in public statements their intention to commit genocide, which would be a violation of the UN Convention on Genocidein which Israel is a part.
South Africa offered as evidence the words of Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said in October that Israel would impose a full siege on the territory because it was fighting “human animals.” A South African lawyer showed the court a video of Israeli troops dancing and chanting that “there are no uninvolved citizens,” arguing that it showed that the soldiers had understood “the inciting words” of their leaders.
What is Israel’s defense?
Israel’s lawyers told the court that the Israeli military had worked to preserve civilian life, giving non-combatants two weeks to leave northern Gaza before invading at the end of October. They also say that after freezing aid deliveries to Gaza at the start of the war, they have since allowed it to be delivered daily.
Israel’s lawyers say some inflammatory statements by Israeli leaders were made by people without executive power about the military campaign, or have been taken out of context. Israel has declassified more than 30 secret orders issued by government and military leaders that it says show Israeli efforts to limit harm to civilians.
What is the importance of the case?
On one level, the case is a legal reckoning for the war in Gaza, which began when Hamas led an attack on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials, and about 240 more were taken hostage. Israel has responded with airstrikes and a ground invasion that have killed more than 25,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities there. The United Nations estimates that about 70 percent of the dead are women or children.
Many Israelis see the case as part of a decades-old effort to turn the country into a pariah and subject it to a higher level of scrutiny than other nations. Israeli leaders have called the case absurd, arguing that Israel, which was founded after a genocide of Jews, is fighting a genocidal enemy in Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction.
Many Palestinians, however, see the case as a rare opportunity to subject Israel to scrutiny. They argue that the United States and other powerful allies have shielded Israel from accountability, including before the UN Security Council.