Today, the International Court of Justice issued its first ruling in South Africa’s case against Israel under the Genocide Convention.
Among other steps it ordered, the Court directed Israel to do all it can to prevent and punish incitement to genocide. This would be a vital and dramatic change since the Israeli president, minister of defense and other top leaders have publicly described all two million Gazans as mortal enemies.
The Court cited many examples such as Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s Oct 12 remark “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved…we will fight until we break their backbone.”
The Court noted many other public statements in which Israeli leaders conflated Hamas with all Gazan civilians. On Oct 13 Israel Katz, then Minister of Energy and Infrastructure (now Minister of Foreign Affairs), said “We will fight the terrorist organization Hamas and destroy it. All the civilian population in [G]aza is ordered to leave immediately. We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world.”
Like other Israeli leaders whose vows of annihilation the Court cited, Katz did not specify whether he referred to Hamas fighters “leaving the world” or all Gazans, but the Israeli siege of Gaza has denied water, food, fuel, and medicine to the civilian population, to the point that they are, as the Court pointed out in its order, suffering unspeakably and on the verge of mass famine.
Though it declined to order a cease-fire as South Africa had asked, the Court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent acts of genocide, and to report back to the Court on its efforts.
In our view, the Israeli government must, as part of its efforts to prevent acts of genocide, strongly and clearly repudiate the dangerous speech of many of its ministers and public figures, since that speech has encouraged Israeli troops to perceive all Gazan civilians as their enemies. As the Court also noted, soldiers have been recorded dancing and singing to celebrate the deaths and suffering of civilians.
The Court has not yet ruled on whether Israel has committed genocide. It will do that much later, maybe not for years. This provisional order is more important since as the Court noted, so many people are suffering hunger, thirst, terrible wounds without medical treatment, and no place to find safety or even shelter. Israel has the power to relieve their suffering and prevent more, even while pursuing its military objectives.
Repudation of dangerous speech must start immediately. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant responded to the Court’s order on Friday by saying that he did not need “to be lectured on morality.” That isn’t, of course, the Court’s function nor its purpose. Its order is law, and Israel must treat it as such.