The world owes South Africa a huge debt. By bringing Israel to the Hague, South Africa has wrenched moral and legal force from the hands of imperial carnage to the possibility of universal justice.
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By Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, Common Dreams
Today, history was made: the International Court of Justice has ruled for South Africa.
Israel's military actions in Gaza fall under the purview of the Genocide Convention. In its order, the court established that the Palestinians are a protected national group and there is a risk of irreparable harm for Palestinians under the Genocide Convention.
The court issued urgent measures directing Israel to "take all measures" to prevent genocide as detailed in South Africa's case. Israel’s denials have, in effect, been rejected.
It directed Israel to ensure the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and instructed it to report on compliance. Most of these measures were passed with a 15-2 vote.
It is impossible to reckon with not just how much death, but how much cruelty and contempt, it had to take to bring about this moment. In just the first six weeks of the siege of Gaza, Israel dropped 500 “bunker-buster” bombs on the thin strip of land, a rate of destruction with few precedents in human history. When bombs that size touch the ground, they have a lethal fragmentation radius — an area of death nearing 365 meters (about 1,198 feet). They turn “earth to liquid,” said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon defence official.
The world owes South Africa a huge debt. By bringing Israel to the Hague, in one fell swoop, South Africa has acted for our common humanity.
In contrast, we have only seen dismissals, falsehoods, and contempt from Western leaders. U.S. President Joe Biden lied to the world to justify the massacre in Gaza. “I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” he declared in early October. That statement, it is now well documented, was a lie. The White House admitted that they “have not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently” and the Israeli government admitted it had no evidence to support the claim. Biden continued to repeat it.
On January 11-12, I travelled to The Hague as a member of the South African delegation. Minutes before the hearing began inside the Peace Palace, the numbers were updated one final time inside the briefing room. Death toll: 22,000. As I write this note today, it has surpassed 26,000—and many thousands more are missing under the rubble, presumed dead.
That is why this fight is far from over. Today’s ICJ verdict, by itself, cannot halt the massacre. Mass movements, governments, and trade unions around the world are determinedly supporting the Palestinians—exposing Israel’s lies, accounting for the complicity of its backers, and rejecting the sacrifice of our humanity. We must go on.
As the case progresses, all eyes will be on the Hague: Will the ICJ uphold the truth plain for us to see? Israel's military actions in Gaza constitute a genocide. Israel is in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention and "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.” After all, this case serves as a critical test of Western impunity.
By bringing this case, South Africa asserted our common humanity and wrenched moral and legal force from the hands of imperial carnage to the possibility of universal justice. It has acted for you and me — and our collective conscience.
Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla is co-general coordinator and Cabinet member of Progressive International and leads its policy pillar, Blueprint.
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