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  • Writer's pictureClarissa Sung

The ICJ’s Verdict on Genocide in Gaza

the International Court of Justice hearing arguments in the Israel genocide case

The International Court of Justice recently passed provisional measures alleging Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to genocide (ICJ, Wikimedia Commons)

On January 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated that it is “plausible” that Israel has violated the Genocide Convention through its operations in Gaza and ordered Israel “to take all measures within its power” to prevent the unnecessary loss of Palestinian life. However, the court stopped short of a final ruling on the landmark genocide case brought by South Africa, reflecting growing international controversy over Israel’s continued military operations in the region.


The ICJ serves as the United Nations’ top court of international law, so its decisions are legally binding and can influence the global perception of a nation. South Africa recently brought a case to the ICJ accusing Israel of committing genocide through its recent military operations in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli invasion of the region was a response to the October 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas that left 1,200 Israelis dead and over 200 forcibly taken as hostages. Its stated aim is to eliminate Hamas, whose existence Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views as a threat to Israel’s security. “This is our second War of Independence,” he announced in late October regarding Hamas’ threat to Israel.  

Yet in the roughly four months since Israel’s invasion, its actions have killed 26,000 Palestinians and forced nearly 85 percent of its over 2 million inhabitants out of their homes. The intense manner in which Israel’s invasion is being carried out, along with the extensive loss of life it has precipitated, is the subject of South Africa’s accusation of genocide.  

The Decision

While it will likely take years for the ICJ to decide all aspects of the case, it came to an interim decision on January 26. In a 15-2 vote, it mandated Israel halt any actions that may lead to genocide, and in a 16-1 vote, it required Israel to take immediate measures to provide humanitarian aid to the region and punish those responsible for inciting genocide in Gaza. Israel must also compile a report on follow-up measures and submit it to the ICJ within 30 days. The Court’s president, Joan Donoghue, cited several statements from Israeli officials as evidence that “at least some of the rights claimed by South Africa and for which it is seeking protection are plausible… with respect to the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.” 

The International Impact

The ICJ’s decision will likely keep Israel under investigation for genocide for many years, adversely affecting the country’s international reputation. Further, the ICJ’s consideration of the case reflects increasing international backlash to the manner in which Israel is carrying out its offensive in Gaza, through which tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom are women and children, have become caught in the crossfire of perilous urban combat. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu rebuked the ICJ’s interim decision, claiming Israel has simply maintained its right to defend itself and, commenting, “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil [in reference to Iran and the militias it supports], and not anyone else.” However, South Africa derived a different interpretation of the ICJ’s decision, saying “The Palestinian people’s cries for justice have been heeded by an eminent organ of the United Nations.” 

Whether the ICJ eventually rules in favor of or against the genocide allegations, this case undoubtedly brings the controversy of Israel’s conduct in Gaza further into the international spotlight. As Israeli leadership continues to strategize their next moves in the unfolding conflict in Gaza, they may choose to heed or ignore the pressure of the international community to take greater measures to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians. Yet, in either case, the ICJ’s interim decision has contributed to forcing Israel to weigh the risks of deteriorating its standing among the international community with its aim to double down on the Hamas threat in Gaza and continue military operations in their original manner.



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