World's Reaction: ICJ decision on allegations of genocide against Israel

World's Reaction: ICJ decision on allegations of genocide against Israel
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Mariana Mayor Lima

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

On January 26, 2024, the International Court of Justice (“the ICJ” or “the Court”) issued its provisional measures order on South Africa’s request for emergency measures in the case of genocide against Israel in the Gaza conflict. [1] The decision elicited various reactions worldwide. Without calling for a ceasefire, as requested by South Africa, the ICJ ordered Israel to prevent and punish direct incitement to genocide in Gaza and allow the entry of humanitarian aid, demanding a compliance report within a month. [2] According to the President of the Court, Judge Joan Donoghue, “The catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further before the court renders its final judgment.” [3] This underscores the time sensitivity of the issue and the importance of respecting the court’s binding order. 

The ICJ decision on the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip sparked diverse reactions among the involved parties and globally. In a short video released shortly after the Court’s decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently rejected accusations of genocide against Israel. He considered the ICJ’s provisional resolution an outrage and affirmed that Israel would continue its actions to defend its citizens against Hamas, which he labelled as a genocidal terrorist organisation, all while adhering to the country’s commitment to international law. [4] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated, “The International Court of Justice in The Hague went above and beyond when it granted South Africa's antisemitic request to discuss the claim of genocide in Gaza and now refuses to reject the petition outright.” [5]

Hamas, on the other hand, deemed the ICJ’s decision important, considering the binding nature of international law and viewing it as a step towards isolating Israel. Senior Hamas Official Sami AbuZuhri stated, “The International Court of Justice ruling is an important development that contributes to isolating the occupation (Israel) and exposing its crimes in Gaza. We call for compelling the occupation to implement the court’s decisions.” [6]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Palestine also welcomed the decision, emphasising its significance as a crucial reminder that no state is above the law. [7] Foreign Minister Riyadh Maliki further highlighted that the ICJ’s commitment to international law, specifically the 1948 Genocide Convention, was confirmed. He noted the Court’s recognition of the gravity of the situation in the territory and the validity of South Africa’s application. [8]

However, Palestinians in Gaza did not share the same sentiments as the representatives mentioned above. According to Ahmed al-Naffar, 54, in central Gaza’s Deir el-Balah, “Although I don't trust the international community, I had a small glimmer of hope that the court would rule on a ceasefire in Gaza”, adding that “the court is a failure.” [9] This statement from a Palestinian illustrates the desire for more immediate and impactful legal actions to cease the conflict.

South Africa considered the decision a decisive victory for international law, expressing hope that Israel would fully comply with the Court’s orders. [10] The South African government highlighted this as a significant achievement in the quest for justice for the Palestinian people, committing to continue its efforts in global institutions to protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza. [11] Even without a clear demand for a ceasefire, Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, stated that a ceasefire would be inevitable if Israel complies with the court’s orders. [12]

Internationally, nations around the world expressed their positions regarding the decision. In the Middle East, Qatar and Türkiye received the news positively, emphasising it as a humanitarian achievement, hoping it would bring an end to attacks on civilians and triumph for international law. [13] On the other hand, Egypt expressed disappointed hope for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, emphasising the need to respect and implement international law, and Iran underscored the urgency of holding Israeli authorities accountable while congratulating South Africa and the Palestinian people on the “success” at the ICJ. [14]

In North America, the United States asserted that the decision aligns with its view on Israel’s right to act in accordance with international law, reiterating the belief that allegations of genocide are unfounded. The U.S. State Department spokesperson stated to The Times of Israel, “We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded and note the court did not make a finding about genocide or call for a ceasefire in its ruling and that it called for the unconditional, immediate release of all hostages being held by Hamas.” [15]

In Europe, the United Kingdom expressed concerns about the case but reiterated respect for the ICJ and international law. According to a Foreign Office spokesperson, they “respect the role and independence of the ICJ. However… [they] have considerable concerns about this case, which is not helpful in the goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire.” [17] Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland emphasised the importance of Israel complying with the ICJ’s provisional measures, emphasizing the binding nature of international law. [18]

Regarding international organisations, Human Rights Watch stated that the ICJ’s provisional measures order increased political pressure on Israel and its allies to act immediately to prevent genocide and further atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza. [19] According to Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard, “The stakes could not be higher - the ICJ’s provisional measures indicate that, in the Court’s view, the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk. The Israeli government must comply with the ICJ’s ruling immediately.” [20]

In summary, global reactions to the ICJ’s provisional decision reflect the immediacy with which the case must be addressed. Despite the complex interaction of geopolitical dynamics and perspectives on international law, human rights must be upheld, and ICJ decisions must be adhered to in order to uphold respect for international law. Overall, nations’ positions are divided in their emphasis on the importance of adhering to legal standards, while others express concerns about possible severe developments in the region without a clear call for a ceasefire.

Sources and further reading

[1] International Court of Justice, ‘Summary of the Order of 26 January 2024’ (26 January 2024), <Summary of the Order of 26 January 2024 | INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE> accessed 01 February 2024.

[2] Al Jazeera, ‘World reacts to ICJ interim ruling in Gaza genocide case against Israel’ (28 January 2024), <World reacts to ICJ interim ruling in Gaza genocide case against Israel> accessed 01 February 2024.

[3] CNN, ‘Top UN court says Israel must take ‘all measures’ to prevent genocide in Gaza but stops short of calling for ceasefire’ (26 January 2024), <> accessed 01 February 2024.

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] Reuters, ‘Reactions to World Court ruling on Israel's war in Gaza’ (26 January 2024), <> Accessed on: 01 February 2024.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Supra note 2.

[8] Supra note 2.

[9] Supra note 2.

[10] The Guardian, ‘UN court orders Israel to ensure acts of genocide are not committed in Gaza’ (26 January 2024), <UN court orders Israel to ensure acts of genocide are not committed in Gaza> accessed 02 February 2024.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra note 2.

[14] Supra note 2.

[15]  The Times of Israel, ‘UK says it has ‘considerable concerns’ about ICJ ruling, rejects genocide accusation’ (27 January 2024), <UK says it has 'considerable concerns' about ICJ ruling, rejects genocide accusation | The Times of Israel> accessed 02 February 2024.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Supra note 2.

[19] Supra note 5.

[20] Supra note 5.