ICJ Judges in The Hague

Judge Nawaf Salam, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, and Judge Georg Nolte attend a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on May 24, 2024 in which the court ordered Israel to 'immediately halt' offensive in Rafah.

(Photo by Koen van Weel /AFP via Getty Images)

US, EU Urged to 'Use Their Leverage' to Force Israeli Compliance With ICJ Order

"Governments should use their leverage—including arms embargoes and targeted sanctions—to press Israel to comply," said Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director.

While welcoming Friday's International Court of Justice order for Israel to "immediately halt" its Rafah offensive, human rights defenders around the world stressed the need for a Gaza-wide cease-fire and for the international community to use tools including sanctions and arms embargoes to compel Israeli compliance.

The United Nations' top court ruled 13-2 that Israel must address the "humanitarian catastrophe" it created in Rafah by stopping its assault on the city and "other actions which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part"—language drawn from the legal definition of genocide under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The order did not call for a cease-fire throughout Gaza as sought by South Africa, which has filed multiple emergency requests at the ICJ since launching a wider genocide case against Israel backed by more than 30 nations.

As the death toll from Israel's 231-day assault on Gaza approaches 36,000 Palestinians, with more than 80,000 others wounded, at least 11,000 people missing and presumed dead and buried beneath rubble, nearly 9 in 10 Gazans forcibly displaced, and widespread starvation taking a deadly toll on some of the most vulnerable people in the besieged enclave, Palestine advocates underscored the imperative of a cease-fire and Israeli compliance with the ICJ order.

"Israel's relentless bombardment of Gaza has killed or injured 5% of the entire population—mostly women and children—and pushed the rest to the brink of famine," U.K.-based Oxfam International said in a statement following the ICJ decision. "The Israeli government must immediately comply with the court's ruling and halt its brutal offensive on Rafah and the rest of Gaza."

Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir said on social media that "governments should use their leverage—including arms embargoes and targeted sanctions—to press Israel to comply."

Matt Carthy, a Sinn Féin member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish legislature, called the ICJ order "a welcome development that stands as an example of the international legal system and multilateralism working as intended."

"But if we are to see this order enforced and any relief delivered to the Palestinian people of Gaza then we must see the groundswell of global support for a cease-fire matched with meaningful diplomatic and economic sanctions against Israel until they are brought into compliance with international humanitarian law," Carthy stressed.

"Too many world leaders, including within the European Union, have to date failed to show a willingness to hold Israel to account—where Europe refuses to act, Ireland must follow South Africa's example and become leaders," he added, noting Ireland's official support for South Africa's case.

Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, expressed the dilemma faced by the 27-nation bloc: "What is going to be the answer to the ruling of the International Court of Justice that has been issued today, what is going to be our position? We will have to choose between our support to international institutions of the rule of law or our support to Israel."

Many observers called on the United States—which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, as well as diplomatic cover in the form of U.N. Security Council vetoes and genocide denial—to press Israel to abide by the ICJ's binding order.

"While the Biden administration stands alone in continuing to offer full support for Israel's genocide in Gaza, the international community is increasingly pushing back against the slaughter, forced starvation, and ethnic cleansing Israel's far-right government is inflicting on the Palestinian people," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.

"Israel is clearly attempting to make Gaza uninhabitable. It must be stopped from completing this monstrous goal," Awad added. "President [Joe] Biden must honor this important ruling by immediately ending all military assistance to Israel's genocide."

Progressive U.S. lawmakers echoed these sentiments.

"Either you trust international law enforcement and courts or you don't, but the international court has ordered [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to stop his invasion of Rafah in Gaza," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said on social media. "Do nations follow norms and standards, or not? And can leaders like Netanyahu be convicted of war crimes if he ignores them?"

Numerous key stakeholders in the ICJ case also weighed in on Friday's ruling.

South Africa hailed what Foreign Ministry Director-General Zane Dangor called the "groundbreaking" order.

Hamas official Basem Naim urged the international community to "immediately implement this demand by the World Court into practical measures" to compel Israeli compliance.

Israeli officials, however, said they had no intention of complying with the order. The National Security Council and Foreign Ministry issued a joint statement blasting what the agencies called the "false, outrageous, and morally repugnant" genocide charges against Israel. Far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took to social media to post a quote from David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, who said that "our future does not depend on what the Gentiles will say, but on what the Jews will do."

Referring to the Palestinians, Ben-Gurion also presciently noted that "a people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily," and Rafah's defenders continued fighting Friday as Israeli forces escalated their assault on the city. More than 900,000 people—many of them refugees from other parts of the embattled Gaza Strip—have recently fled Rafah, according to United Nations agencies and the U.S. government.

Friday's order comes days after International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif.

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