National march, London 13th January 2024. National march, London 13th January 2024. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Michael Lavalette argues the significance of Friday’s judgment in the case of genocidal intent brought by South Africa, and explains why the limits of the decision means we must stay on the streets

Today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel has a ‘case to answer’ over accusations of genocide, represents a very significant political defeat for Israel and its backers in Washington, London and the seats of power across Europe.

The judgement is a vindication of everyone who has marched for Gaza and Palestine over the last few months. Every one of us has known that Israel’s actions have been genocidal. Every one of us has known that they were targeting civilians, implementing collective punishment, and bombing hospitals, schools, churches and mosques; every one of us has known that they have bombed  refugee camps and the areas they had designated as ‘safe zones’; and by deliberately cutting electricity, food and water supplies they were using famine as a weapon of war.

And now, the ICJ has noted most of these actions – which were listed by South Africa in the indictment – require fuller investigation. The ICJ ruling accepted most of South Africa’s case and dismissed Israel’s defence. It also put a series of actions in place that Israel now has to implement.

These actions include the provision of humanitarian aid into Gaza and the protection of civilians. Rather incongruously the actions didn’t include the demand for an immediate ceasefire – which logically you might have expected them to do. Nevertheless, implementing the actions (and having to report their actions to the courts in a month) does create political difficulties for Israel and its supporter states.

Western governments

Today’s ruling is noteworthy in three particular aspects.

First, this is a huge defeat for Israel politically and ideologically. The seismic ruling represents a major blow to Israel’s standing in the world. It is a significant blow to the country’s political standing and represents an ideological defeat for the Zionist project.

The ‘unquestioning support’ Israel gets from the US, UK and other European governments is now exposed as a cover for genocide. The western governments have long claimed they are the upholders of international law and the global rule-based order – so what do they do now? Distance themselves from their Middle East ‘watchdog state’ or defy the ruling and expose their hypocrisy? Further, Israel’s (always mythical) claim to be the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East is forever exposed for the lie it is.

If Israel continues its actions in Gaza, as Netanyahu has indicated, it will become a pariah state. And those who collude with and arm Israel are also liable to face genocidal charges.

And of course, for us, it raises clear demands. As a state carrying out genocide its representatives should be evicted and boycotted from every sporting and cultural event. Its embassies should be closed and ambassadors sent home. It must be isolated and boycotted just as South Africa was under apartheid.

Second, though the ruling is very significant, there has been disappointment at the failure to call a ceasefire. There should rightly be anger at this failing. But this is also an important reminder: for our liberation, or the full protection of our rights, we should never rely on the courts. The ICJ and the ICC are tied into the interests of the global imperial powers, we should not be surprised that the judges baulked at the thought of a full confrontation with the US. The UN, the Security Council and the various international courts are there to protect the interests of the most powerful states.

The fact that they are there to protect the interests of the powerful is one reason why the ruling is so significant, because it exposes the cracks in the global order. But we shouldn’t be surprised their ‘actions’ are, at best halfhearted. And we shouldn’t expect them to be our liberators.

Finally, the context of the court case has been the continuing resistance of the Palestinians, and the vast global solidarity movement that has grown to defend Gaza. It’s the mass movement which has brought this political crisis to a head for the western powers. And it is up to us to push hard to deepen their crisis and up the pressure to get an immediate ceasefire.

The lesson is that the heroic Palestinian resistance and the global mass movement now have the potential to expose the cracks in the imperialist project in the Middle East, to demand an immediate ceasefire and to pose, for the first time in many years, the demand for a liberated Palestine from the river to the sea.

This weekend we need to take to our towns and cities to make as much noise as possible and next weekend we need to have a massive turnout for the next national demonstration for Palestine.

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