International Court of Justice orders Israel to immediately halt its operation in Rafah

Saturday, May 25, 2024 - The United Nations’ top court has ordered Israel to immediately halt its military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, further increasing international pressure on Israel over its war against the Hamas militant group.

Israel began a limited ground offensive in Rafah on May 7, rejecting calls from the international community, including the US, not to proceed.

More than a million Palestinians were taking shelter in Rafah before Israel started its offensive, but the court noted that around 800,000 have since been displaced.

“Israel must immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in Rafah which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), said on Friday,  May 24.

The ICJ considers the humanitarian situation in Rafah to be classified as “disastrous,” he said, adding that UN officials have indicated that the situation was set to “intensify even further” if the Israeli operation in Rafah continues.

Upon entering Rafah, the Israeli military seized the city’s border crossing with Egypt, which has remained shut since. The crossing was a vital entry point for humanitarian aid.

The court ordered Israel to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian assistance and said it had found that the evacuation and living conditions provided by Israel are not “sufficient to alleviate the immense risk, which the Palestinian population is exposed” to.

Israeli officials have condemned the ICJ’s ruling. Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s opposition party Yesh Atid, said that “the fact that the ICJ did not even directly connect the end of the military operation in Rafah to the release of the hostages and to Israel’s right to defend itself against terror is an abject moral failure.”

Naftali Bennett, who was the former Prime Minister of Israel, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “The International Court of Justice just provided every terror organization on earth with THE PERFECT METHOD TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER.”

Hamas praised the ruling but said it had expected it would be for the entire Gaza Strip, emphasizing that the situations in Jabalya and other cities are equally dire and warrant similar attention.

Rulings by the court are final and binding, but the ICJ doesn’t have a mechanism to enforce them, and they have been ignored in the past.

South Africa filed an urgent request on May 10 for additional measures against Israel, accusing it of using forced evacuation orders in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to “endanger rather than protect civilian life.” The request was part of a larger case brought by Pretoria against Israel in which South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during the seven-month-long conflict.

Following the ruling, a joint statement by the Israel’s National Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that Israel “has not carried out and will not carry out military activity in the Rafah area that creates living conditions that could lead to the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population.”

In response to other orders by the ICJ, including keeping the Rafah crossing open, the statement said that Israel will “continue its efforts to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip” and “reduce as much as possible the harm to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.”

The ruling comes after the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a separate court in The Hague, sought arrest warrants for Hamas leaders as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

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