02 MARCH 2024, The Hague

As the war in Gaza nears its fifth grueling month, the atrocities committed by the Israeli government show no signs of abating. Just two days ago, IDF soldiers murdered over one hundred unarmed civilians when they opened fire on desperate crowds gathering flour for their starving families. Now, an imminent IDF attack looms over Rafah – the final refuge left in Gaza for thousands of displaced families fleeing violence. In this context, the recent ICJ ruling on Israel’s genocide in Gaza rings hollow.

On 26 January, the ICJ commented for the first time on the courageous genocide lawsuit filed by South Africa against Israel.

In this initial ruling – with the final verdict still years away – the court has urged Israel to adopt six specific actions, primarily aimed at alleviating the suffering of civilians. While the decision has been met with some positive reactions from European Muslims, the response among Palestinians has been nearly unanimous in disappointment. They argue that the court missed a crucial opportunity by not demanding an immediate ceasefire. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor cut to the heart of the matter: “there has to be a cease-fire, without it, the order doesn’t actually work.” She’s right. The court fell short of fulfilling its duty: it did not adequately apply international treaties, customary international law, and the core legal principles upheld by the international community. It missed a groundbreaking opportunity to issue a verdict based on the principle of ex aequo et bono—equity and the greater good—for the first time. Essentially, it did not succeed in safeguarding the people of Gaza from being slaughtered.

Either way, the court has no power to enforce compliance, exposing its impotence and the theatre of human rights mechanisms that fail to protect the oppressed.

This begs deeper questions around the selective application of international law and the hypocrisy of Western powers who cling to its framework when advantageous, but easily discard it when inconvenient. Minister Pandor incisively states:

“You can’t say because Ukraine has been invaded that suddenly sovereignty is important, but it was never important for Palestine. It’s very peculiar. If you believe in international law, truly, then wherever sovereignty is infringed it must apply.”

Pandor exposes how international law is weaponized to serve the interests of dominant powers who feel no compulsion to apply rules evenly. As long as this inequality remains entrenched, justice will be denied.

South Africa knows these dynamics all too well from its own historic struggle against racist subjugation and apartheid. Rather than expecting the stacked ICJ to deliver justice for Palestine – despite the overwhelming evidence against Israel -, South Africa is challenging the very foundations of a system that enables powerful actors like Israel and its Western allies to dominate global politics under the veneer of democracy and human rights.

South Africa is driven by a commitment to principle, specifically challenging the framework established by the so-called West and its assertions of universal justice, fairness, and morality. This involves highlighting the reality that the West’s system has long failed to meet its own standards—if it ever truly did. The notion that all individuals are equal and possess equal rights is, in practice, reserved for a select few: a white, privileged minority. This group seems oblivious to the fact that a non-white, less privileged majority is increasingly unwilling to tolerate a global hierarchy that perpetuates Western dominance, a modern extension of colonialism, under the guise of promoting worldwide democracy and freedom.

Furthermore, while the intensity and tragedy of the Palestinian struggle are unique, it embodies the broader fight against Islamophobia and discrimination. This battle is about leveraging the very system we inhabit to claim the rights it purportedly extends to everyone, while simultaneously demanding it fulfill its professed ideals.

We are here to reclaim the narrative of our own story and defend our rights!

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