After ICJ Genocide Ruling, Israel Shows Contempt for the UN, and Its Western Allies Deepen Their Complicity in the Genocide

A screenshot of an Al Jazeera report about Israel’s ‘war’ on UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), cynically declared after last week’s devastating ruling by the International Court of Justice in relation to well-founded allegations that Israel is engaged in a genocide in Gaza.

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In a devastating ruling issued last Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), “the principal judicial organ” of the United Nations, accepted a case brought by South Africa against the State of Israel “concerning alleged violations in the Gaza Strip of [its] obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”, and imposed conditional measures on Israel to prevent what the Court judged to be the grave likelihood of a developing genocide.

As I explained in an article I published shortly after the ruling, “By a majority of 15-2, and in some cases 16-1, the Court found that South Africa had established a compelling case that Israel’s actions, in response to the attacks by Hamas and other armed groups on October 7, were so severe that it is plausible that they constitute genocidal intent under Article II of the Genocide Convention; namely, ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’, via ‘killing members of the group’, ‘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 ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of [the] Convention”, and to “ensure with immediate effect that its military forces do not commit any of the above-described acts”, to “take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip”, and to “take immediate and effective measures to 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.”

In support of the above, the Court drew extensively on assessments of the gravity of the crisis in Gaza from senior UN and WHO officials, and also quoted declarations of genocidal intent made by three senior Israeli officials — defence minister Yoav Gallant, Isaac Herzog, Israel’s President, and Israel Katz, the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure — although, as South Africa’s submission established so powerfully, almost every senior Israeli official (as well as countless pundits, celebrities, ordinary citizens and IDF soldiers) has, at some point in the last four months, made explicitly genocidal statements.

The Court also ordered Israel to “take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence” related to allegations against it, called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the remaining hostages abducted by Hamas and other groups during its deadly assault on southern Israel on October 7, and ordered Israel to report back within a month regarding its compliance with the order.

Israel has now joined a small but depraved group of post-WWII genocidal countries

In the field of grave human rights abuses — including war crimes and crimes against humanity — genocide stands, above all, as the gravest crime that a nation can commit, the most ancient and unforgivable of humanity’s hatreds.

It was first defined — and steps taken to prevent its reoccurrence — in the 1948 Genocide Convention (or, to give it its full title, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide), the first human rights treaty unanimously adopted by the General Assembly of the recently created United Nations, which was implemented largely in response to the Holocaust, the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews between 1941 and 1945.

Since then, international UN-led or UN-facilitated bodies have recognized three particular genocides — in Cambodia in the 1970s, in Rwanda in 1994, and in Bosnia, in relation to the Srebrenica Massacre in 1995.

In addition, genocide cases are ongoing against Sudan, in relation to atrocities committed in Darfur in 2003-04, via the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002 as a permanent body to continue the work of the specially-convened tribunals for Rwanda and Bosnia, and, via the ICJ, against Myanmar, in relation to atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim population from 2011 onwards, in a case brought by The Gambia in November 2019, for which provisional measures, similar to those imposed on Israel, were issued in January 2020.

The major difference between the two cases was that Myanmar was given four months to respond, not just one month, and the provisional measures against Myanmar didn’t include condemnation of public incitements to genocide made by senior officials, because, until now, those perpetrating genocide generally haven’t bragged about it openly to the entire world.

Israel has now joined this small but profoundly depraved group of countries who, like the Nazis whose horrors inspired the creation of the Genocide Convention, have crossed a line in the always contentious field of human conflict over land, resources, or in the fulfilment of colonial or imperial ambitions — conflicts which always involve, to some extent, the dehumanization of the perceived enemy — by being consumed with genocidal intent towards the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

The significance of the ICJ ruling

Unlike the UN Security Council, whose ability to deal objectively with its “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” is severely hampered by the fact that five of its member states —  the US, the UK, France, China and Russia, the alleged “victors” in the Second World War — can veto any resolutions that they don’t like, the ICJ is largely immune to politically-motivated decisions.

Its 15 judges, drawn from the UN’s member states, and restricted to no more than one judge from any country, are elected by the UN General Assembly and Security Council for nine-year terms, and currently include, from the west, judges from the US (its President, Joan Donoghue), France, Germany, Slovakia and Australia, from Russia (Vice President Kirill Gevorgian), China, India and Japan, and from Brazil, Jamaica, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia and Uganda. For the assessment of South Africa’s case, two ad hoc judges were also brought on board, from South Africa and from Israel.

The only two dissenting judges were Julia Sebutinde from Uganda, the first African woman to be part of the ICJ, who voted against all six of the provisional measures, and has been “disowned” by the Ugandan government, and the Israeli judge, Aharon Barak, an 87-year old Holocaust survivor, who, crucially, voted with the majority of the Court on two measures — the measure ordering Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip”, and the measure ordering Israel to “take immediate and effective measures to 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.” As Sky News reported, “he said he supported those orders in the hope they would ‘help to decrease tensions and discourage damaging rhetoric’ while easing the ‘consequences of the armed conflict for the most vulnerable.’”

Israel’s response: denial and a full-scale attack on the UN

In response to the ruling, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the Court’s ruling, declaring, in a televised address, “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to continue to defend our country and defend our people. Like every country, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself. The vile attempt to deny Israel this fundamental right is blatant discrimination against the Jewish state, and it was justly rejected. The charge of genocide levelled against Israel is not only false, it’s outrageous and decent people everywhere should reject it.”

Netanyahu’s reality-inverting claim that Israel’s right to defend itself was “justly rejected” by the Court appears bewildering, but it was later repeated and amplified by government spokesperson Eylon Levy, who had the nerve to tell Times Radio that “South Africa brought a case against Israel seeking to force it to suspend its military action against Hamas and abandon the hostages while leaving Hamas free to re-offend. And the court was wise to throw that out and reaffirmed Israel has an inherent and natural right to defend its people.”

This is all patently untrue. The ICJ’s ruling categorically spells out its refusal to accept Israel’s risible case for self-defence, and, by imposing conditional measures, has clearly put Israel on trial for genocide. Even though the final ruling will no doubt be many years away, any attempt to claim that South Africa’s case was in any way rejected is akin to a criminal suspect claiming at their arraignment that they have been found not guilty.

However, while these were typical Israeli efforts at gaslighting, Israel had a much more devious strategy to undermine the Court, and the UN as a whole, which it unleashed within hours of the ruling, when the Biden administration announced that the US was temporarily halting its funding to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) following allegations by Israel that 12 of its employees (out of 13,000 in Gaza, and 40,000 in total) were suspected of taking part in the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas and other groups.

Indulging Israel as ever, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said, “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves”, but added that they were “highly, highly credible”, even though Israel admitted that some of the information came from the interrogations of alleged Hamas prisoners, held, like thousands of other Palestinians, in military detention, without access to lawyers, and where, as numerous human rights groups have asserted, torture and abuse are rife.

As the Observer explained on January 28, Israel had “handed information” about the Hamas allegations to Phillippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA’s Commissioner General, on January 21, and Lazzarini “immediately flew to New York to discuss the allegations with [UN Commissioner General António] Guterres before informing key donors in the middle of the week and making an announcement on Friday”, just as the ICJ was delivering its verdict. UN officials, the Observer added, “had hoped to prevent a donor collapse by being seen to be acting pre-emptively and swiftly”, launching an inquiry by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative body in the UN system, and with António Guterres promising that “any UN employee involved in acts of terror would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

Despite this, the US’s decision to suspend UNRWA funding was swiftly followed by decisions to suspend funding by Australia, Canada, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, with Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania also jumping on the genocidal bandwagon in the days that followed. To put these threats in context, UNRWA’s biggest funder is the US ($343.9 million in 2022), followed by Germany ($202 million), and with Sweden, Japan and Switzerland also in the top ten. To their credit, Norway, ranked 5th at $34.1 million, refused to join the exodus, as did Spain, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg (and with the European Union and France reserving judgment for now), but if all the countries rushing to impose funding cuts follow through, UNRWA would collapse, with devastating results for Palestinians as a whole, but particularly, of course, in Gaza.

An Al Jazeera infographic showing UNRWA’s major donors.

In one fell swoop, then, Israel managed to undermine not just UNRWA, but also the UN as a while, and, crucially, the ICJ, whose ruling had quoted extensively from Phillippe Lazzarini. The US’s actions, and those of the cascade of other countries that followed, also cynically undermined the ICJ’s demand that Israel “take immediate and effective measures to 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.”

In a further show of contempt for the ICJ, Israeli protestors have been blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing since the ruling was delivered, with some, the families of hostages, delusionally arguing that no aid should be delivered until the hostages are released, and failing to recognize that it is their own government, and not Hamas, that is blocking the release of their loved ones through their addiction to the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinian people, and their unwillingness to negotiate any kind of ceasefire that, as in the Qatar-brokered eight-day “pause” in November, would lead to the release of hostages.

Genocidal Israeli protestors trying to stop humanitarian aid being delivered to the starving and medicine-deprived Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip.

The significance of UNRWA

The reason Israel wants to destroy UNRWA is because it is by far and away the most significant provider of “basic services and humanitarian assistance” in the Gaza Strip, which is more than mildly inconvenient when you have genocidal intent, and also because of its long-standing representation of Palestinians’ rights. As an article in Le Monde explained on January 28, “The UNRWA was established in late December 1949 by the UN General Assembly following the first Arab-Israeli war, which broke out immediately after the creation of Israel in May 1948. Its mandate is to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees who are registered in the agency’s areas of operations, ‘pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.’”

As the Le Monde article added, “More than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from or fled their land between April and August 1948 — when Israel was created — according to the UN. These people, as well as their descendants, have refugee status. The UNRWA has become the sole guarantor of their international status by default. It not only operates in the Palestinian territories, but also in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Some 5.9 million Palestinians are registered with the UNRWA and can receive services encompassing education, healthcare, social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency aid, including in times of armed conflict.”

As Le Monde also explained, “Over 543,000 children are enrolled in UNRWA schools, and the agency also manages 60 refugee camps, although those in the Gaza Strip have, of course, been destroyed since October 7. As Middle East Eye has also explained, prior to October 7 it ran 183 schools, 22 health facilities and seven women’s centres in Gaza, and its medical facilities had an average of 3.4 million visits per year.

Since the genocide began, UNRWA has been struggling to cope with the devastation in the Gaza Strip, as most of its facilities have been destroyed, leaving over a million Palestinians crammed into overcrowded UNRWA schools and shelters, and subjected to relentless bombing. As Al Jazeera explained on January 31, it has also suffered greater losses than in any previous conflict, with 152 of its employees killed, “the highest number of UN casualties” since the UN was founded.

Nevertheless, its continued presence remains the most vital lifeline for the people of Gaza, and, as Phillippe Lazzarini said at the weekend of the decisions to defund the organization, “Our humanitarian operation, on which 2 million people depend as a lifeline in Gaza, is collapsing. I am shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behaviour of a few individuals and, as the war continues, needs are deepening and famine looms. Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment. This stains all of us.”

Clarifying why UNRWA has long been a target for Israel, Jonathan Cook, the independent journalist and expert on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, stated on January 30 that, as “the sole agency unifying Palestinians wherever they live, even when they are separated by national borders and Israel’s fragmentation of the territory it controls”, UNRWA “brings Palestinians together even when their own political leaders have been manipulated into endless factionalism by Israel’s divide and rule policies.”

As Cook added, “In addition, UNRWA keeps alive the moral case for a Palestinian right of return — a principle recognised in international law but long ago abandoned by western states.” No wonder, then, that Israel has long sought to defund it, to remove it from its role as what Netanyahu, in 2018, described as a “refugee perpetuation agency.”

The west’s continuing complicity in genocide

Perhaps those countries rushing to defund UNRWA are now so caught up in Israel’s genocidal spell that they don’t realize that, as US law professor Francis Boyle, who prepared the Bosnian genocide case for the ICJ, explained to the US journalist Sam Husseini, it is “no longer the case of these States aiding and abetting Israeli Genocide against the Palestinians in violation of Genocide Convention article 3(e) criminalizing ‘complicity’ in genocide. These States are now also directly violating Genocide Convention article 2(c) by themselves: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.’”

While we wait to see whether human rights experts in any of these countries can prevail upon their governments to understand that Israel will, with almost complete certainly, eventually be ruled to have been committing genocide in what the west likes to call its ‘war on Hamas’, and that, for the first time in their history, those countries supporting it will also be held to have been complicit in genocide, Israel has continued its genocide unabated, with over a thousand Palestinians killed since the ICJ ruling, and with, again, western governments complicit because they are doing nothing to stem the flow of deadly weapons to the genocidal entity — Israel — that, for some reason, they still regard as an ally.

Ethnic cleansing and further outrageous claims about UNRWA

Moreover, Israel’s contempt for the ICJ is such that, not only have they failed to rein in the genocidal statements made by ministers, but on Monday a conference was held — the ‘Victory of Israel Conference: Settlement Brings Security’ — which, as the Guardian explained, “was attended by approximately 1,000 people, including 11 cabinet ministers and 15 members of the Knesset, some of them members of the prime minister’s Likud party.”

Prominent at the conference — which called for the Israeli resettlement of the Gaza Strip and the “voluntary migration” of its entire Palestinian population — were the far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, and, as the Guardian noted, accurately, “The prominent role of government figures in the far-right conference appears to violate” the ICJ ruling that Israel must “‘take all measures within its power’ to avoid acts of genocide in its war in Gaza, including the ‘prevention and punishment of genocidal rhetoric.’”

The crowd at the ‘Victory of Israel Conference: Settlement Brings Security’, a conference for the resettlement of Gaza that was held in Israel on January 29, 2024, with, in the glasses in the foreground, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right politician who is the minister of national security in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.

The Israeli government evidently doesn’t care, because, after all, their intent — often openly stated since October 7, and readily discernible in their actions — has been to kill as many Palestinians as possible and to destroy as much of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure as possible, some of which has already, noticeably, been cleared in preparation for the settlements and beach resorts of the far-right settlers’ dreams, but with scant thought given to how this long-dreamed of “voluntary migration” might actually occur, when no country has shown any interest in helping Israeli achieve its utterly repellent — and thoroughly illegal — dream of complete ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile, on the same day that the conference took place, a compliant propagandist writing for Wall Street Journal, Carrie Keller-Lynn, who served with the Israeli Defense Forces, took the UNRWA story to new depths of Zionist depravity. Given an “intelligence dossier” by Israeli intelligence, based, apparently, on what “an official described as very sensitive signals intelligence as well as cellphone tracking data, interrogations of captured Hamas fighters and documents recovered from dead militants, among other things”, Keller-Lynn duly parroted unsubstantiated claims about UNRWA, suggesting that “around 10% of all its Gaza staff [around 1,200 people] have ties to Islamist militant groups”, and “about half have close relatives who belong to the Islamist militant groups.”

It shouldn’t need saying, when pointing at a regime that has persistently lied for the last four months — about 40 beheaded babies, about Hamas command centres under hospitals, and, essentially, about anything and everything that they can lie about — that, in the wake of the ICJ ruling, suggesting that half of UNRWA’s staff “have close relatives who belong to the Islamist militant groups” is a naked and complete barbaric effort to erase from memory claims made by Israel, at the start of its assault on Gaza, that there were approximately 30,000 Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip to suggest, by extension, that, actually, about half of Gaza’s entire population — over a million people — “have close relatives who belong to the Islamist militant groups”, and that therefore they can all be killed without Israel having to be troubled by irritating judges who insist on calling this necessary killing a genocide.

What we all need to remember is that even this interpretation of Palestinian guilt isn’t enough to satiate the frenzy of self-righteous genocidal fury that has publicly gripped Israel since October 7, through its politicians, its media and its social media, to a truly horrific and appallingly public extent that has, quite honestly, never been seen in human history before, and to recall the words of Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, cited in the ICJ report, who stated, on October 12, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It is absolutely not true.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (see the ongoing photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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