“Bad circumstances may produce a good thing that was not expected.” This saying was coined by the great writer and thinker Abbas Mahmoud Al-Akkad in his book “The Life of a Pen” nearly 60 years ago. It helps us understand the absurd political situation in the region, which is plagued by devastating wars and crises.
One of the consequences of this situation was the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last Friday on the war in Gaza. The decision was based on a request by South Africa to stop the war and hold Israel accountable for committing genocide. However, the decision dashed the hopes of the Arab world, as it did not compel Israel to stop the war in Gaza, giving Tel Aviv more justification to continue the bombing with all kinds of weapons. The decision also urged Hamas to release all the prisoners it had captured since the attacks of October 7, without requiring Israel to do the same for the Palestinian prisoners in its jails.
Despite these negative aspects of the court’s decision, some positive ones could be used for future benefit. According to the text of the decision, “some of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing war against Hamas could fall within the scope of the Genocide Convention,” and the court said, “It must therefore take a series of measures to prevent them.”
This decision, which was adopted by a vote of 15 to 2, implies that there is only a “possibility” that South Africa’s claims that Palestinians need protection from genocide are valid and that this is detrimental to Israel. The court did not find any reason in the horrors of the war to demand that it be stopped. The decision also suggests that the court thinks that genocide is taking place. However, the court did not use the word “desist” in its decision, which would have indicated that it believed that genocide was already happening. This reduces the international pressure on Israel, but the court’s recognition of the “reasonableness” of some of South Africa’s claims could damage Israel’s image and its diplomatic efforts. Here we can see some of the good that came out of bad circumstances.
The main points of the ICJ’s decision are as follows: First, and most importantly, the language of the decision suggests that the court does not believe that Israel is currently committing genocide against the Palestinians. If that were the case, the court would have agreed to South Africa’s demand that Israel immediately and unilaterally stop its military operation in Gaza, and it would have used the word “cease” in its order, as South Africa explicitly did in its case against Israel. Second, the court accepts that the claim that Palestinians in Gaza need protection from genocide is “reasonable.” This indicates that the court does not think that South Africa’s controversial claims are baseless. This aspect of the decision could have serious implications for Israel’s position, international reputation, and diplomatic status. As Chief Justice Joan Donohue said, the court is not rejecting the case outright, as Israel had asked. This will certainly support the international calls for trade sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel.
The main question in this preliminary process is not whether Israel is committing genocide, but whether there is a “possibility” that South Africa’s claims that the Palestinians are not protected are true. If the court rejects this possibility, it would mean dismissing the case completely. The court based its decision on some statements by Israeli officials, such as those made by Defense Minister Yoav Galant at the start of the war. He called for a total siege of Gaza, cutting off food, water, fuel, and electricity, and referred to the residents of the Gaza Strip as “human animals.” These statements were brought up in court. Considering the level of destruction in Gaza, the massive loss of civilian life, and the terrible conditions that Gazans are facing, it is obvious that the court and its judges did not feel they could dismiss the case outright.
Therefore, after this decision, Israel faces charges of genocide, as the International Court of Justice says that there is clear evidence that Israel has a case to answer. This means that there is a suspicion of genocide that is currently looming over Israel and that this suspicion could become a proven fact and a serious crime in the future. This could affect not only Israel but also those who supplied it with the weapons used in the genocide operations. This is what the accusation of genocide entails.
Dr. Hatem Sadek: Professor at Helwan University