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PSL Statement on ICJ initial ruling on Israeli genocide case brought by South Africa

The provisional measures announced today by the International Court of Justice in the case brought by South Africa against Israel has recognized the terrible brutality and genocidal rhetoric directed by the Israeli regime against Palestinians, formally acknowledging this reality in a principle body of international law. At the same time, the Court failed to live up to the expectations of the people of the world, who have been demanding in huge numbers an immediate ceasefire. 

The ICJ ordered that “The State of Israel shall … take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention [on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide], in particular: killing members of the group [Palestinians], causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

The Court also ordered that Israel, “prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip” and “enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. The ICJ provisional measures also included a prohibition on the destruction of evidence that genocide has been committed, and an order that Israel report in one month to the Court on the steps it has taken to comply with the ruling. 

Following the ICJ’s announcement, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor argued that “In exercising the order there would have to be a ceasefire. Without it, the order doesn’t actually work”. While Pandor noted that she “would have wanted that the word ‘cessation’ is included in the judgment”, if Israel is to comply with the provisional orders then that “requires a ceasefire.”

In failing to order an outright halt to the Israeli war machine’s onslaught in Gaza, the ICJ is applying a double standard. When Ukraine took Russia to the Court on charges of genocide, the ICJ issued preliminary measures in March of 2022 which stated that Russia must “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine.” The deaths of Ukrainians – overwhelmingly soldiers engaged in combat, not civilians as is the case in Gaza – was treated with much more urgency than the deaths of Palestinians. As an institution, the ICJ’s priorities reflect the strategic interests of the imperialist powers that dominate world politics. 

17 judges from different countries presided over the genocide trial, but the president of the ICJ is from the United States – Joan Donoghue. Before joining the court in 2010, Donoghue was a high ranking State Department official. As the lead judge, she was in a unique position to shape the provisional measures and prevent the inclusion of a ceasefire.

While everything comes down to the question of implementation, the other provisional measures do not necessarily contradict the interests of U.S. imperialism. The resistance of the Palestinian people and the strength of the global solidarity movement has opened up serious contradictions between the U.S. and Israeli governments. The right wing of the Israeli ruling class is determined to push on with its war of annihilation in Gaza at all costs and re-colonize the area. But the sheer brutality on display is having a profoundly discrediting and isolating effect on the international position of the U.S. empire. It is also causing serious domestic political problems for Biden, especially as the presidential election campaign heats up. A protracted, lower-intensity war where Israel conducts routine raids and inflicts terror on the Palestinian population without the spectacular, devastating bombing campaign that has appalled the world may be the preferred option for the Biden administration.

U.S. isolated – the world stands with Palestine

But the failure to order a ceasefire notwithstanding, that the court would find the situation in Gaza to be dire enough to issue emergency provisional measures of any kind in a case of genocide against Israel is hugely embarrassing to the U.S. empire. The U.S. government is Israel’s main sponsor and protector. Israel is rightfully understood around the world as an extension of U.S. imperial power, and any ruling that implies horrific crimes were committed by Israel also implicates the United States.

When it suits its interests, the U.S. government loves to lecture the world about international law. For instance, during the controversy last year when a supposed Chinese “spy balloon” flew over the United States, Secretary of State Blinken told his counterpart Wang Yi that this was “a clear violation of international law.” If a simple balloon is enough to set off alarm bells in Washington about a breach of international law, then what about the murder of 12,000 children? The hypocrisy is beyond words.

International public opinion is firmly behind the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom. This is true overwhelmingly in the Global South, and it is also true inside the United States and other countries that have historically been sponsors of Israel. Governments all around the world, including those that are typically in the same camp as U.S. imperialism, feel compelled to speak out about the U.S.-Israeli atrocities in Gaza. South Africa’s admirable decision to take Israel to court for genocide reflects the view of the clear majority of humanity. 

The system of international law currently in place reflects a world order dominated by the big imperialist powers. As a consequence, there is no clear enforcement mechanism when it comes to addressing violations committed by those imperial powers or their allies. When the UN Security Council passed a resolution in 2011 against the then-government of Libya led by Muammar Gaddafi, NATO enforced it by bombing the country to oblivion. But when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last month in favor of a resolution supporting a ceasefire, unsurprisingly there was no imperialist military alliance that jumped into action to force its implementation.

The ICJ initial ruling is an important political development. But it remains up to the global people’s movement to actually bring an end to the genocide in Gaza. The steadfastness of the Palestinian people combined with international solidarity is the formula for victory. 

Biden is guilty of genocide too

Joe Biden deserves to be on trial too. As the genocide grinds on, every day he is presiding over the massive transfer of arms and ammunition to the Israeli war machine. The bombs and missiles that rain down on Palestinian hospitals, schools, and residential neighborhoods are made in the USA and delivered by U.S. warplanes. 

Along with the military might of the United States, the Israeli regime also relies on U.S. diplomatic support to carry out its crimes. Twice, the United States has abused its veto power on the United Nations Security Council to block binding resolutions in favor of a ceasefire – first on Dec. 8, and then again on Dec. 22. In every international forum, Israel can rely on the United States to excuse their war crimes as acts of self-defense.

Biden is a participant in this genocide. While he may have tactical differences with Netanyahu at times, he remains fundamentally a co-conspirator and in fact architect of one of the gravest crimes of the 21st century. Here in the United States and all around the world, the people’s struggle will continue until the genocide in Gaza ends, Palestine is free, and war criminals are brought to justice.

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