International Court of Justice Orders Israel to Stop Its Offensive in Rafah Now

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

The International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where displaced Palestinians have sought shelter from the conflict.

The decision from the world court based in The Hague backed a request brought by South Africa in its case accusing Israel of genocide. The ICJ has no way in which to enforce its orders and Israel has consistently criticized the proceedings as baseless, but the ruling nevertheless adds to international condemnation around the way Jerusalem is carrying out its fight against Hamas.

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Nawaf Salam, the court’s president, read out the order which also demanded that Israel cease any action in Rafah which “may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Israel was further ordered to allow investigators into the enclave and submit a report within a month on the progress it has made.

The court also noted that the situation in Gaza has “deteriorated further” since its last order, and that the humanitarian situation in Rafah is now “disastrous.”

In a post on X after the order was made, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that Israel “is at war for its existence” and that those who “demand that the State of Israel stop the war, demand that it decree itself to cease to exist.” “We will not agree to that,” he said, adding: “History will judge who today stood by the Nazis of Hamas and ISIS.”

In an application to the court last week, South Africa said new measures are “extremely urgent, necessary and essential in light of the desperate circumstances facing Palestinians in Gaza, and particularly in Rafah, as a result of Israel’s continuing violations of the Genocide Convention and of this Court’s Orders.”

It went on to claim that the “overwhelming evidence demonstrates” that “the very manner in which Israel is pursuing its military operations in Rafah, and elsewhere in Gaza, is itself genocidal,” and it “must be ordered to stop.”

The court will likely take years before issuing a final judgment in the case. In January, it delivered an interim judgment ruling that Palestinians have plausible rights protected by the Genocide Convention, but stopped short of making a decision one way or the other on South Africa’s central claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Israel has strenuously denied the allegation and has argued in court that its actions are specifically targeting Hamas militants in response to the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

Speaking Thursday, ahead of the latest ruling from the court, an Israeli government spokesperson said there is “no power on Earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza,” according to Reuters.

The court case comes at a time of acute international pressure on the Israeli government over the way in which it is prosecuting the war.

On Monday, the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor Karim Khan announced that he is seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, over alleged war crimes. Khan is also pursuing warrants against three Hamas leaders. The following day, Netanyahu slammed the “rogue prosecutor” and claimed the move was based on “a pack of lies,” while President Joe Biden said the warrant applications against Israeli leaders were “outrageous.”

Adding to the pressure was the decision Wednesday of three Western European countries—Ireland, Spain, and Norway—to formally recognize Palestinian statehood.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, was asked about Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation following the European nations’ decision on Wednesday. “We certainly have seen a growing chorus of voices, including voices that had previously been in support of Israel, drift in another direction,” Sullivan said. “That is of concern to us because we do not believe that that contributes to Israel’s long-term security or vitality.”

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