Top UN Court Stops Well Short of Halting Israel’s Military Operations at Rafah, and Shrinks From Ordering a Full Cease Fire

While the ruling by the International Court of Justice is a blow to Israel, the court lacks a police force to enforce its orders.

AP/Ismael Abu Dayyah
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike east of Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024. AP/Ismael Abu Dayyah

Updated at 2:20 P.M. E.D.T.

THE HAGUE — The order issued against Israel by the top United Nations court today, analysts who are scouring the document are reporting, stops well short of ordering a full cease fire — and even so, it is unlikely that Israel would comply with the court’s move.

Criticism of Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas in Gaza may have been growing, particularly on operations in Rafah — and even from its closest ally, America. This week alone, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court — not affiliated with the UN — requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is also under heavy pressure at home to end the war, which was triggered when Hamas-led terrorists stormed into Israel, killing 1,200 people, most civilians, and taking some 250 captive. Thousands of Israelis have joined weekly demonstrations calling on the government to reach a deal to bring the hostages home, fearing that time is running out.

Be all that as it may, while the ruling by the International Court of Justice is a blow to Israel, the court lacks a police force to enforce its orders. Ahead of the ruling, Israel signaled it would brush off an ICJ order to stop its operations. “No power on earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza,” the government spokesman, Avi Hyman, said in a press briefing Thursday.

The court’s president, Nawaf Salam, read out the ruling, as a small group of pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside. Fears about an operation in Rafah have “materialized,” the ruling said, and “the humanitarian situation is now to be characterized as disastrous.” The court also ordered Israel to keep the Rafah crossing into Egypt open “for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Yet the court did not call for a full cease-fire throughout Gaza as South Africa, which brought the case, had requested at hearings last week. One highly regarded Israeli newspaperman, Nadav Ayal of Yediot Ahronot, reports on X, as translated by Google, that Judge Nolte, who supported the court’s ruling, does not stop any military operation in Rafah. 

Rather, as Mr. Ayal puts it, the ruling targets only actions that endanger, per the Genocide Convention, the existence of the protected group, which in this case are the Palestinians. Aside from the matter of the Rafah crossing, Mr. Ayal reports, wording was reached here that is, as Mr. Ayal puts it, “the product of a compromise.”

Mr. Ayal notes that Judge Barak writes in his ruling that there is nothing in the decision other than a repetition of Israel’s well-known commitments — not to commit genocide, by whichwhich it abides by. “I want to emphasize,” adds Mr. Ayal, “that this is a bad day for Israel, but the initial impressions about a complete ‘halt’ of the operation in Rafah are not accurate. At the very least it is open to interpretation.”

According to the ICJ, Israel must “halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governance, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Responding to the court, Israel’s national security council writes in a statement that it “has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that create conditions that could lead to the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part.”

The cease-fire request brought to the court is part of a case filed late last year, accusing Israel of committing genocide during its Gaza campaign. Israel denies the allegations. The case will take years to resolve, but South Africa wants interim orders to protect Palestinians while the legal wrangling continues.

The court ruled Friday that Israel must ensure access for any fact-finding or investigative mission sent by the UN to investigate the genocide allegations.

At public hearings last week at the International Court of Justice, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, urged the panel of 15 international judges to order Israel to “totally and unconditionally withdraw” from the Gaza Strip. The court has already said that Israel’s military operations pose a “real and imminent risk” to Palestinian Arabs in Gaza.

Israel rejects the claims by South Africa, a nation with historic ties to Palestinians.“Israel takes extraordinary measures in order to minimize the harm to civilians in Gaza,” Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, a member of Israel’s legal team, told the court last week.

“This may well be the last chance for the court to act,” Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa’s legal team, told judges last week. Israel rejects the claims by South Africa, a nation with historic ties to Palestinians. Given that language, the order handed down today by the court seems to give Israel considerable room to continue its military and humanitarian operations in Gaza.


This dispatch has been updated from the bulldog.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use